James Anderson writes from Madison: Wisconsin is in the news. Congressman Paul Ryan has become Mitt Romney’s running mate in the contest for the White House. Expect the election campaign to liven up, with Republicans praising Ryan while Democrats are attacking him for his ‘radical’ policies.
Wisconsin is natural Democrat territory. So Ryan’s achievement in winning a House seat is quite something. Governor Scott Walker is also a Republican and held on to his job after he won a recall poll. Looking good for the Republicans? They know they have to win Wisconsin and nearby Ohio if they are to oust President Barack Obama in November. A tough task by all standards.
Opinion polls put Obama in the lead. CNN, a fan of the President, puts him seven points ahead. So Romney’s momentum has stalled. He is reluctant to divulge more about his business career and tax returns. The average American senses a cover up. Why not publish and defend one’s record?
Ryan, a 42-year-old, was in the running for the Republican presidential nomination but opted out. Why? He said he had a wife and young family and did not want to abandon them to politics. He appears to have changed his mind. Of course, being Vice President allows you a lot of free time. Your main job is to float around the world attending functions the President wants to avoid. You also have to say something anodyne at conferences that are not high profile. Joe Biden is a figure of fun to many people. He is liable to say something unwise without an autocue. So it will not be difficult for the next VP to improve on his performance. Obama chose him only because he would not be diverting media attention away from himself.
Ryan is a rising star in politics. He has made a name for himself as a fiscal conservative. That means he wants to balance the budget. Americans at present are living beyond their means. Instead of living off Chinese credit they have to cut back on what they spend. Ryan is articulate and has all the numbers at his fingertips. He would cut Obamacare, pensions and other welfare benefits. Everyone accepts that America cannot afford Obamacare but no Democrat dares admit it. Ryan is not going for the welfare vote or those living off state hand outs. His target is the middle class. They have seen their living standards decline over the last decade. On the other hand, the top 10 per cent have done well and the top 1 per cent extremely well. So he is saying to middle America that he can halt the relentless decline of their disposable incomes. How is he going to do it?
No American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt has been re-elected when the rate of employment has been higher than 7.2 per cent. It is 8 per cent at present and is unlikely to fall before November. So Romney-Ryan should in theory find it easy to win the economic argument. But it’s not as simple as that. If you are unemployed or fear you will become unemployed you will stick with Obama. The Republicans might cut your state benefits. So, paradoxically, a declining economy can work in Obama’s favour.
Ryan argues that balancing the budget will permit American to bloom again. It might, but just balancing the budget will not spur economic growth. Investment, rising productivity and entrepreneurship are needed. But where will the money come from? It’s a question no one seems to be able to answer at the moment. It will be interesting to see how this plays out during the election campaign.