By now we've all had time to absorb Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate. The responses have been mostly ecstatic from those on our side of the political spectrum, including words of support from Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Express, FreedomWorks, and Concerned Women for America. I suspect that some of these groups have been willing to overlook some of the clunkers in Ryan's voting record because they are breathing a huge sigh of relief that Romney didn't choose Portman, McDonnell, or another boring White RINO.
Aside from the more obvious qualities that Ryan brings to the ticket (his social conservative credibility, his superb ability to debate, articulate, and defend conservative values, and his youthful energy), I'd like to mention a few less obvious items that might come into play in future months.
First, Paul Ryan is a graduate of Miami University in Ohio. He graduated in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in in economics and political science. While it probably won't make a major difference in terms of peeling off Ohio votes, having a connection to the state certainly won't hurt in this important swing state. Miami is a well-regarded university here, located in Oxford, Ohio, near Cincinnati. When I graduated from high school (a few years before Ryan), Miami was where the smart, preppy kids went to college - the kids who wore Izod sweaters and had goals in life. He can certainly use it to name drop and sell himself as the smartest kid in the room.
A second important fact is that Ryan is a Roman Catholic and by most accounts, one who doesn't thumb his nose at church teachings.
Three words: Chick. Fil. A.
A couple weeks ago, Mike Huckabee (and the social media campaign that followed) tapped into something many people didn't realize existed: a socially conservative underpinning in America, bubbling just below the surface. Until "Support Chick-Fil-A" day, a lot of people thought they were alone in their beliefs and were afraid to say (outside the confines of their churches) that they supported traditional marriage. Suddenly, they were "out" and the world didn't come to an end. Nobody burned crosses in their front yards.
We probably will never know if Romney's choice had anything to do with a realization that Ryan, who has voted in support of traditional marriage his entire career, could help to energize this base. I hope he has the good sense to draw a bold contrast between Obama's radical policies and the viewpoints of the majority of Americans. Far from being radical, Ryan's views are representative of mainstream America. I think Ryan can effectively make the case for that and do it in a way that doesn't come across as Santorum-y/unlikable.
In addition, as a pro-life Catholic, Ryan is in a unique position to do violence against Obama's unconstitutional HHS birth control mandate. For example, Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, is one of the dozens of schools across the country suing the Obama administration over the HHS mandate. Franciscan, a Catholic university, dropped it's student healthcare plan earlier this year over the contraception mandate. Ryan can eloquently answer the false claims about the fake War on Women. He can defend the rights of Catholic and Christian schools and businesses in a calm, reasonable manner and bring along millions of Catholic votes in the process.
Here's what Paul Ryan said in an interview with Laura Ingraham:
"The “teachable moment” here is when we elect a president who brings this progressive philosophy to government, they decide how our rights are going to be granted, given, and organized and if they clash with our First Amendment right of religious freedom or something else, then we know, who wins in that exchange. This is much, much bigger than about contraception. This is about religious freedom, First Amendment rights, and how this progressive philosophy of fungible rights of a living breathing constitution really clashes and collides with these core rights that we built our society and country around...
"...That is precisely the point I am trying to make which is what the “teachable moment” is. This isn’t a teachable moment just for Catholics who got duped. This is a teachable moment for Americans who see that their constitutional rights could be next. They are being abridged in this instance so this goes beyond one church, this goes beyond one issue.This goes into the progressive thinking that is behind these kinds of laws like “ObamaCare” and their implementation. "
Ryan doesn't just have economic expertise, but he can deliver a powerful message on behalf of social conservatives who have felt the oppressive, strong arm of government pressing down on them for the last four years.
And I can't wait to see him force fellow-Catholic, Joe Biden, to explain himself on these issues in the vice presidential debate. I think I would even pay money and wait in line overnight for tickets to that show.
There is also the Ayn Rand factor. Paul Ryan has made some conflicting statements on his support for Rand's ideas. In a speech to the Atlas Society in 2005, he cited how influential Ayn Rand was in shaping his political views. This past April, he distanced himself from Rand in an interview with National Review:
“I, like millions of young people in America, read Rand’s novels when I was young. I enjoyed them,” Ryan says. “They spurred an interest in economics, in the Chicago School and Milton Friedman,” a subject he eventually studied as an undergraduate at Miami University in Ohio. “But it’s a big stretch to suggest that a person is therefore an Objectivist.”
“I reject her philosophy,” Ryan says firmly. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas,” who believed that man needs divine help in the pursuit of knowledge. “Don’t give me Ayn Rand,” he says."
Ryan's description is similar to Morton Blackwell's review on the Leadership Institute's Read to Lead list:
"It is one of the most devastating critiques ever written of big government and the liberal media. Rand's moral indignation is contagious; after reading her, most readers are forever immune to the enticements of socialism.
"It must also be said, however, that the militantly atheistic Rand had an unrealistic view of human nature and little appreciation for cultural values. Most people, however mesmerized by her they may be in their youth, outgrow Rand's philosophy, which Burke might have described as a theoretical construct rather than an application of the accumulated wisdom of mankind."
That said, rumors that Ryan is an Objectivist, Rand devotee, or closet libertarian persist. Twitchy has a collection of tweets perpetuating the rumors. This may actually work to his advantage if it gets some of the Ron Paul or libertarian voters to the polls on election day. The fact that he even knows who Ayn Rand is should at least give him a few bonus points. There are plenty in Congress who don't know Ayn Rand from Ann Curry.
One last thing. When Ryan was in college, he hawked hot dogs as the driver of the famous Weinermobile. That just might help us with the all important carnivore vote. We can't afford to take anything for granted.