August 30, 2012
Unfit Running Mates
By David K. Shipler
Only once since Ronald Reagan chose George H. W. Bush as his running mate in 1980 have Republicans picked a vice presidential candidate who was qualified to step into the Oval Office if necessary. He was Jack Kemp, former Housing Secretary, who ran with Bob Dole in 1996, a smart and solid man who could have been a decent president.
With all the rest, the Republicans have exposed the country to a high-stakes gamble with very bad odds. In 1988, Bush selected Dan Quayle, an inexperienced senator whose perpetual deer-caught-in-the-headlights look made him seem less than intellectually capable. He was a lightweight vice president who only recently, in cogent criticism of his party’s swing to the hard right, has shown the good sense he would have needed as president.
Dick Cheney, Vice President under George W. Bush, displayed such contempt for the Constitution’s protections of individual rights after 9/11 that, as a president unrestrained, he would have damaged the country’s structure of liberty even more extensively than Bush allowed him to do. (One Cheney gambit, which Bush rejected, was to knock down a pillar of American freedom by sending the Army in pursuit of a hapless so-called “sleeper cell” of wannabe terrorists in upstate New York. They were duly prosecuted by the civilian system.) Much of Cheney’s legacy has persisted under Obama.
Besotted by Sarah Palin in 2008, John McCain probably doomed his campaign by choosing her, and inviting her primitive, grievance-ridden sloganeering onto the national stage. She even scared some moderate Republicans. Imagine if she had become president.
Now comes Paul Ryan, a callow radical who would take apart a half-century of carefully constructed interactions between the public and private sectors, discarding most of what government does best in defending citizens against the hardships and dangers of a vibrant free market system.
Although Ryan as a congressman has made a reputation as a smart, straight-shooter on his draconian budget proposals, he couldn’t talk straight at the Republican Convention last night about his plan to dismantle Medicare and replace it with a voucher program. He resorted to untruths and half-truths about wanting to protect it rather than eliminate it, even dredging up his grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s and lived with his family. “We had help from Medicare,” he admitted, and then continued with this falsehood: “Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it.” This cannot happen if Ryan’s own proposal is enacted.
“We have a plan for a stronger middle class,” Ryan declared. But his tax policies and proposed cuts in social spending would exacerbate the wealth gap severely, so that the United States would see its middle class erode and its rich-poor divide begin to resemble that of the Third World. His passion to free business from much regulation would free private enterprise to exploit, pollute, and endanger. Yet Ryan could say, with an air of sincerity, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” Well, he would treat them quite badly.
There is a wishful thought among some moderates that Romney is really one of them, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. His own turn to the hard right, it is thought, is just a tactic to fire up the carnivorous Republican base, that once in office, he would be temperate.
It may be soothing to see it this way, and to imagine that choosing Ryan as his running mate is just a tactic to get elected, and that Ryan’s toughest ideas will not have resonance in a Romney White House. If you think that, then you should pray for Romney’s longevity. A Ryan presidency would make this a crueler country.
That’s the trouble with most of the Republicans’ running mates in the last 30 years. To accept the ticket, you have to put aside the terrible possibility that the Number Two could suddenly become the Number One.