“With energy and vision, Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party. He understands the fiscal challenges facing America, our exploding deficits and crushing debt and the fiscal catastrophe that awaits us if we don’t change course.” – Mitt Romney, in introducing his VP choice
Well, it didn’t take long for the Republican Party to distance itself from the anti-intellectual fervor of the race-to-the-bottom primary season once the nomination was locked up in the corpus of Mitt Romney – a twice-advanced-degree educated member of the Eastern business establishment. In just a few months, we’ve gone from a shameful and irresponsible free-for-all where the value of higher education was not only questioned but where the lack of it was triumphed. See Santorum’s cheap digs at Obama’s desire to promote access to higher education for all Americans into a faux- populist critcism against intellectual elitism in the White House.
–In a speech at the Americans for Prosperity forum in Michigan, Santorum said “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” He went on to talk about “liberal college professors” trying to “indoctrinate” students and said that the reason Obama wants everyone to go to college is that he “wants to remake you in his image.” The audience’s response? Applause. We have now reached the once unthinkable point in this presidential race where even higher education has come up for debate–
Now, suddenly Romney, and therefore the Republican political establishment, are touting Paul Ryan as an intellectual leader. Paul Ryan, also college educated, with dual undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Economics from Miami University of Ohio, has been consistently lauded for his intellectual acumen and rigorous analytical skills with regard to Conservative fiscal theory – hardly the candidate that is going to provoke a criticism of the Eastern Intellectual Elite. He’s a devotee of Milton Friedman for God’s sake – no friend of liberals but certainly an egghead in his own right. In fact, Ryan is being characterized as such, a policy-wonk (same description by the way as given Bill Clinton and Al Gore) obsessed with tables, numbers, and statistics…in short math, a subject Mitt Romney is also obsessed with.
So, okay. Math is a hard subject. It’s hard even for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, since independent analyses of their respective plans show that they can’t add, or can only add when “x = some indeterminate economic boost factor” that will make the math work. But they are now happy to talk about how much they like math. And we know only eggheads like math. And eggheads are not the rest of us who don’t.
Are the Republicans really now going to journey down the road where they are finally admitting to the Independent center that they might actually want people they feel are smarter than they are to be running the country? Republicans keep invoking Reagan like a god because their candidates lack what Reagan had, an effervescent personality combined with a distinct point-of-view wrapped by a healthy, and, yes, sophisticated understanding of the political process. He was also able to sling digs in a way that didn’t make him look like a complete asshole – and that was probably the only quality for which I could admire him. They distance themselves from the qualities of a George W. now because they see how far Rick Perry got. Against Obama, do they recognize that the broad electorate doesn’t want to have their beer buddy running the country.
As I pointed out in the last post, the Texas Republicans nominated Ted Cruz, happy to tout his education (Harvard and Princeton Eastern Elite again) and his conservative intellect. It’s almost as if now the Republicans are acquiescing to the probability that they’re going to have their asses handed to them in the debates if they continue munching only on sound bites and emotion. Reagan could sell his product without any intellectual weight because he carried enough weight by his personality and real conviction. But Romney is no Reagan, first because he probably doesn’t really believe in anything more than his own ambition and ego, and second, because of that, he can’t mask any intellectual deficiencies in his argument. He’s actually too smart to set those deficiencies aside and just go with the dogma (and if he does win that’s the only quality that might give me hope though I will remain suspect as to who he would be having advising him).
So they go whole hog and become the Republican intellectual standard bearers. With Paul Ryan’s selection, the Republicans are abandoning the red meat populism that dragged an even reluctant Romney into the scrum. I remember, not so long ago, when he was happy to sit back and watch all the “real conservatives” tear each other apart while setting new lows for rhetoric. But that all changed once he had a real fight with Rick Santorum, who conveniently criticized the educated elitism of it all by never mentioning his own educational background – another 2 advanced degrees – MBA from Pitt and LLD from Dickenson Law School. What’s good for the goose…
I bet we start hearing a lot less criticism of the intellectual elite in the Obama administration from here on out, since that would open themselves up to the same, finally. And this is probably a good thing for the election process as a whole. At least there might be a real discussion of the economic issues Ryan’s selection generates. But Mitt Romney already is trying to run away from his gaffe “join me…join me in welcoming the next President of the United States” in introducing his VP nominee by distancing his own policies from that of Ryan’s – as if to say, you’ll be electing me and my programs gosh-darnit! And, of course, the Freudian slip might be that Romney was really saying that by selecting Ryan as the VP, they were all setting up the nexter President of the United States, who is also, like Romney, a serious, smart, man. And that’s okay! Embrace it Tea Party…We’ve come a long way when the new Republican VP nominee can be compared to John Kennedy by the Republican Speaker of the House. But now, if touting smarts is on the table, everything is on the table.
Perhaps Romney chose Ryan because in doing so he can now also feel free to talk to people seriously, and therefore, say what he actually might think (whatever that is). I don’t believe he’ll actually do this for a minute, but it could be what he secretly might wish for every night ruminating over his latest lackluster performance while nursing a tonic water in his hotel suite (probably the Presidential suite just to get in the mood). I think he knows how awful he is as a good or convincing panderer. At least he might now be free to show that he really can “believe” in something specific and different from his upcoming opponent, though I bet instead that they have Ryan tone his dogma down as Romney remains non-specific.
So, will the conversation actually change now? Given that they have nothing to lose, I think it will, and has to – one last gasp before a potential crushing by a President already acknowledged to be smart. The dumbing down might have brought a base, who will reluctantly vote for them anyway because they’d rather vote for a smart Irish guy than a smart black guy. And in trying to get the scraps of the more discriminating center, they throw caution to the wind and now embrace their own educated elitism to go for the hard sell. But it can’t possibly seem genuine. Romney will again be nursing his tonic, failing to break the conviction and arguments of a smart guy who embraces being smart.