Paul Ryan: America deserves a battle of ideas
“Look, this is a close race,” vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said in a blogger conference call on Thursday afternoon. “Some in the beltway wanted to hand this election over to the President after his convention, but that sugar high is already evaporating.”
“The next eight weeks are going to be a battle of ideas, and the country deserves nothing less,” Ryan continued, promising that he and Mitt Romney were ready for battle. “We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be tough, we’re not going to bend to Beltway group-think, and we’re not going to shy away from presenting our ideas.”
Those ideas include “limited government, economic freedom, the American ideal of natural rights, and peace through strength.” Ryan wants voters to go to the polls knowing “exactly what we believe in, exactly where we stand, and exactly what we will do, as compared to President Obama.”
The contrast will be one of both ideology and competence. Romney cited Bob Woodward’s new book, The Price of Politics – which discusses President Obama’s “gaps” in leadership, according to the author, and describes the debt limit standoff as a time when “it was increasingly clear that no one was running Washington” – as “one more example of how this man is not the kind of leader that we need, how his vision and philosophy is very far to the left of most Americans in this country.”
Ryan understands that his ticket needs to do better than “winning by default,” because “we want to have an affirming victory. We want to earn victory, we want to deserve victory, so that we have the moral authority, the mandate, the courage, and the political consensus to turn this thing around before we have a debt crisis on our hands… to reclaim the American idea of an opportunity society, limited government, and prosperity before we get sucked into a welfare state with a debt crisis, which is the path President Obama has us on.”
Ryan pronounced himself ready to tackle the foreign policy issues that suddenly came to dominate the headlines over the past few days, noting that while he’s best known as a budget expert, he has studied Middle Eastern affairs extensively during his 14 years in the House of Representatives, having long ago formed a Middle East Caucus. “I think what we’re seeing right now are the results of projecting weakness abroad,” he said of this week’s crises. “And if you create a vacuum, it will be filled by bad actors.”
He credited President Obama’s foreign policy with some successes, including drone strikes to eliminate terrorist targets and the killing of Osama bin Laden, but also said there had been “lots of other weakness projection points,” such as “our fraying relationship with Israel, the fact that Iran is getting that much closer to a nuclear weapon,” and Bashar Assad’s continuing presidency over the meat grinder of Syria.
Ryan also described America’s budgetary and economic peril, including the sequestration defense cuts, as signals of American weakness to adversaries and predators abroad. “You need to speak with moral clarity, confidence, and certainty at every moment,” he said, alluding to the apologetics and mixed signals emanating from the Obama Administration as trouble brewed in Egypt and Libya. “If we equivocate, if we appease, our enemies will think that we’re retreating, and they will pile on. I’m a big believer in peace through strength. I’m a big believer that the President of the United States should speak confidently in favor of democratic capitalism, in favor of our values.”
On the subject of media bias, Ryan said he has become intimately familiar with the concept of “narrativizing,” which he defined as “our opponents, or some in the media, feeding a narrative that is contrary to reality, but if you say it over and over again, it creates a false narrative or a false reality that people come to believe is true.”
One of those false narratives is that Romney and Ryan haven’t been providing any detailed alternatives to Obama’s policies. In truth, Ryan said, “Mitt Romney has put out more specifics on policy, more details on budget, more leadership on entitlement reform and pro-growth economic policies than the incumbent President has, and far more than the U.S. Senate has.” He compared the magnitude of the change from Obama’s distressingly European economics proposed by his ticket to snapping out of a coma.
I asked Ryan what he and Romney had in mind to break their apparent deadlock with Obama in the polls, where sizable percentages of Americans say they believe America is on the wrong track, but also seem willing to consider another term for the incumbent. Ryan pointed out that the passing of the Republican convention marks the beginning of Romney’s full access to campaign funds, which should begin leveling the playing field. Given the “carpet bombing” of negative ads Romney suffered from the Obama campaign, during the traditional period of challenger vulnerability that comes between winning the primaries and formally receiving their party’s nomination, he’s not dismayed to discover “we’re still tied.”
“So now, when people are starting to focus on the fall campaign, they know we’re on the wrong track, they know President Obama has brought us on the wrong track… he’s personally appealing, but his record is so bad… now that we can completely deploy all of our campaign assets, they can see that we have a good man, with a better vision, and better policies, and a better agenda.” He called this “a clear choice” for what remains “a center-right country.”
He knows the road ahead will be challenging. “We’re going to have to fight the cloud and the clutter coming from the Obama campaign, and the personal attacks,” Ryan predicted. “They’re going to everything they can to divide, to distract, to distort… to slice the country up into little micro-coalitions, and hope they can get to ‘fifty plus one.’ Our job is to get around the mainstream media, and get to the voters in this country.”
Obama’s path sounds a lot easier than what Paul Ryan laid out for himself and his running mate. Ryan’s road explicitly calls for honesty with the voters and putting together a strong public consensus to face the foreign and domestic challenges facing America, not a cheap “fifty plus one” win using divisive tactics and a supportive media establishment. Then again, if the right thing to do was also the easy thing to do, everyone would be doing it.