Adult Conversations

by G. Murphy Donovan (September 2012)

“Maturity is when your world opens and you realize that you are not the center of it.”
 – M.J. Croan

What are the prospects for a US vice-presidential candidate who makes a reputation insulting colleagues and voters alike? Paul Ryan does just that. He insists on having an “adult conversation” about the national economy; implying that the political class and the electorate have regressed to a kind of self-destructive economic selfishness. If candor were coconuts; Ryan would be a bag of macaroons. The selection of Paul Ryan is either a stroke of cryptic genius or a poison pill for the Republicans and the Romney campaign.

Let’s deal with the less salutary implications first.

Folks who beat the drum for austerity and thrift would probably like to see a guy like Ryan as Secretary of Commerce or Treasury where he would have some real policy clout. Ryan’s budgetary expertise is legendary. He actually reads and expects to understand a bill before he votes. Alas, as vice-president, Ryan would have no portfolio and little influence save that dispensed by the Oval Office.

A cynic might see the Ryan selection as a bone thrown to noisy dogs on the right; at once, pacifying the Tea Party and muzzling the mastiff of economic sanity. If Federal Reserve, Treasury, and Commerce slots are again reserved exclusively for bankers and Wall Street mutts, the Romney pack will have run up the “business as usual” flag.

Obstacles to real economic reform are formidable. Foremost is the entitlement generation (nee Gen X); a host of dependents that receive municipal, state, or federal subsidies, checks, or bailouts. Who votes for a pay cut? The free-lunch lobby now includes government employees, contractors, the education establishment, professional students, retirees, welfare recipients, geriatrics, the Peace Corps, General Motors, stockbrokers, and your local banker.

Most of the predictable opponents to economic reform will be the usual suspects, municipal socialists. As Colin Powell so aptly puts it; “That’s where the votes are.” The big cities nationwide can be expected to vote for four more years.

The nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is an ironic illustration. You might think the American hub would be a model city, but ground truth there is a litany of single party abuses; political corruption, a failed school system, and a morbidly obese population that wallows in all manner of urban medical and social pathologies.

These liberal monocultures are reinforced by generation cluelessness – marinating in the wings. The sons and daughters of entitlement cannot navigate the hazards of childhood without a smart phone, a laptop, a game console, a six foot flat screen, an automobile, a gross of condoms, record student loans, a medical marijuana card, and a nose job.

Think about it! That digital, adolescent mushroom in your basement, whose fondest dream is a bigger or better joy stick, gets to vote someday.

So much for the dark side.

The genius of the Ryan selection may be that Romney actually sees himself as an agent of change; and he will use Ryan as the sharp end of the reform spear. Other than Tea Party activists and “generation screwed” pacifists, the Republican team will be pressed to find a reform demographic. Indeed, if demographics were uppermost, Romney might have selected Marco Rubio of Miami. Rubio could have at least brought in Cuban Americans, the state of Florida, and a dozen or two Latino nuns.

The “occupy” crowd, a visible and organized youth movement on the Left, is not likely to yelp for thrift or Ryan-style reforms either. And aims like lynching bankers or looting the rich are more emotional than practical. The success demographic already pays most of the bills anyway. And yes, oldster (Social Security and Medicare) outlays are first on the reform agenda; but with grandfathering, those tweaks simply become bitter, but necessary pills.

No one should confuse the AARP socialist agenda with senior sentiments. Does this mean tighter belts tomorrow? Of course! But only children whine about what they never had or what is impossible to provide.

And the confluence of fiscal pragmatists like Ryan and Rubio may actually provide some insight into the Romney prospects. If adults can get elected locally in Florida and Wisconsin, shouldn’t a good hair pair like Romney/Ryan be a winning national ticket? And Florida could be a bellwether with the mature demographic. Seniors may be a little slow off the couch; but most are adults, they vote, and they may be the only Americans that know denial, sacrifice, and hardship – and the virtues of delayed gratification. Indeed, adults have been known to set the tone for mushrooms.

The line on Romney is now cautiously optimistic. His trip to Israel suggests he may have some foreign policy giblets. Mercifully, he did not stop on the way home in Cairo, Riyadh, or Istanbul to pander. Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan for the domestic fiscal fracas is courageous too.

Nonetheless, at some point, Romney/Ryan must play offense; take the fight to those who would rather crash than turn. Prior to the Ryan announcement, team Romney had more bugs than a stray cat. The campaign has been playing defense; fending off ludicrous charges of corporate felony, tax cheating, and even second degree murder.

The incumbent in any presidential race always has a leg up. The devil we know is better than the devil we don’t. Ryan may not be a game changer, but he’s a lot more interesting than Romney. In an age of media saturation, charisma matters. And Joe Biden, Barak Obama’s second banana, makes Paul Ryan look like Alexander Hamilton. And saying the number two guy doesn’t count is a little like saying that tomorrow doesn’t matter.

G. Murphy Donovan gets off the couch now and again to write about politics and national security. He was an early Romney skeptic.         

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