Want to know what America thinks of vice presidential nominees? Just consider Barry Goldwater’s 1964 choice, William E. Miller. A New York Congressman, Miller was so forgettable that American Express tapped him for one of its first “Do You Know Me?” commercials years later. Cameron Crowe even gave the name William Miller to the protagonist of Almost Famous.
Still, here we are again with a vice presidential choice provoking the political media to act like lonesome, horny kids using fake IDs to get into a pick-up bar. Or maybe a better analogy is the press finds its date with a presidential nominee boring. When the curiously sexy new kid enters the bar, their heads turn, mouths drool, eyes dilate and nostrils flare. It’s the Pheromone Protocol, and the promiscuous press follows it with embarrassing abandon.
Enter Mitt Romney’s VP choice, Paul Ryan. I have to admit, he’s a flashy dresser. He also comes with a seductive danger. He wants to destroy the commonwealth on behalf of the wealthy based on the sociopathic delusions of Ayn Rand. There’s an idea bold enough to take the breath away from a media on the make.
Really, it’s even more perverse. Insecure candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain intentionally bring along a seemingly sexier partner in hopes of scoring in the tag-along effect. Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama suffered from such insecurity.
Even a cursory glance at history and the analyses of political scientists proves the point: vice presidential picks have very little if any impact on the outcome of a presidential election. It’s not that they don’t make news. Sarah Palin made news. But she changed next to nothing in the overall dynamic of the race (one study puts her net impact at one-half of a percentage point – to the benefit of Democrats!).
What about Ryan’s real potential to impact the race? Well, just a few days before Ryan was announced, respected analyst Nate Silver ranked Ryan twelfth in the ability to add votes for the presidential nominee in the home state of the VP pick. Says Silver:
Another of Mr. Romney’s potential choices, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, drew more mixed reactions. Although Mr. Ryan should win his home district, pollsters who tested his numbers throughout Wisconsin found more tenuous results, with 38 percent of voters giving him a positive rating and 33 percent a negative one.
Ryan, it must be said, has already successfully seduced many elite pundits, most of whom are more susceptible than your average beat reporter to the power and benefits of celebrity. Ryan will likely get a longer period of positive coverage than Palin did. And remember, when Palin first took the stage the press treated her like a beloved princess.
As Ryan Lizza points out, among Ryan’s more radical ideas are the elimination of Medicare and Medicaid and the privatization of Social Security. He would replace Medicare with direct payments to seniors who would have to find their own private insurance. He craftily excludes today’s elderly and near-elderly so as not to lose their votes. But this assumes they will not talk to their younger brothers and sisters or their children about the deadly consequences of such a change.
Medicaid would be left to the states to decide. Tax breaks for employers who provide health insurance would be eliminated. Workers would be left on their own to find private insurance, though they would get a tax deduction if they did. He would put Social Security in the private, unaccountable hands of Wall Street.
Ryan’s disdain for the well-being of Americans is profound. He doesn’t believe we will all do better if the government is drowned in a bathtub. His radical policy is based on the assumption that many will die or disappear leaving cake and champagne for the few who survive.
But the sex appeal of the new kid in the bar will trump all this. Elite pundits’ pursuit of the unicorn-like “game changer” is never ending. They’re going to go home with Ryan. When they’re done, there’ll be Tebowing all around.