I wanted to wait a few days before commenting on this story, especially since it was wall-to-wall coverage most of the weekend. There is a lot to digest with this pick. The golden boy from Wisconsin is loved by conservatives and hated by liberals. He’s a wonk with sex appeal (how often do you get to say that), and he is not a bad speaker either. Most of the coverage has focused on the central question: what is going through Mitt Romney’s mind? While I don’t know the details of Mitt’s vetting process, I do have three reasons why this pick is important for the Romney campaign:
1) Ryan excites the Republican chattering class: The intellectual wing of the GOP likes Paul Ryan. I mean they really like Paul Ryan. If the Weekly Standard was a high school, all the writers would have pictures of Paul Ryan inside their lockers. I watched Fox News for part of the morning after Ryan was pick and the atmosphere was electrifying. Every commentator called this pick a “game changer” (of course that may not have good connotations). While the writers at National Review plan to vote for Mitt Romney without this pick, having them excited will make the conservative base excited. Fox News and conservative media have a lot power and the base does listen to them. Elites have the power to persuade (to borrow a phrase used for presidents). By picking Ryan, Romney is going for a top-down persuasion strategy through conservative media.
2) This Pick Separates Him from W.: George W. Bush has not been mentioned much this election. Currently, he is like Voldemort on the right (no one dare speak his name) and Romney does not want to be compared to Bush. This is especially true on the deficit. There is a fear in the minds of some on the right that Mitt will promise deficit reduction, but, in the end, he will spend like drunken sailor once he gets into office. Republicans already have a trust deficit with Romney over his healthcare plan looking exactly (in fact the model for) President Obama’s plan. By putting a man with the plan on the ticket, Mitt Romney shows that he really cares about the deficit and will not repeat the Bush years.
3) No Sarah Palin PTSD: When Barry Goldwater (a conservative ideologue) lost the 1964 presidential race to Lyndon Johnson in a landslide, the GOP made a collective vow not to pick another candidate that was too far to right. It could be argued that Ronald Reagan was the byproduct of that campaign 15 years later, but there is certainly some disagreement I have on that point. As time passed, Goldwater’s legacy loomed pretty large over the Republican Party, turning to legend. I think a similar argument can be made about Sarah Palin and the vice presidency. To some Republicans, Sarah Palin was a risky choice as John McCain’s running mate and that risk partially caused his downfall in 2008. This time around, Republicans wanted Mitt Romney to play it safe and pick someone who was plain (like a Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman). Picking Paul Ryan as VP gets the GOP past another Goldwatereque legacy with Sarah Palin. Romney shows the Republican Party that it should not be afraid of risky vice presidential picks, which is easier to do now than forty-years from now.
These are probably not the reasons Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan, but they are affects of choosing Ryan. Certainly this changes the tone of race. It will take until election day to decide whether it changed the game in Romney’s favor or not.
Most people probably have their opinions formed about Chick-Fil-A’s stance on gay marriage. Despite the fact that I support gay marriage myself, I’m not going to comment on this or Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy’s first amendment rights. I do want to bring up this post by the Economist about corporate social responsibility:
Matters of moral truth aside, what’s the difference between buying a little social justice with your coffee and buying a little Christian traditionalism with your chicken? There is no difference. Which speaks to my proposition that CSR, when married to norms of ethical consumption, will inevitably incite bouts of culture-war strife. CSR with honest moral content, as opposed to anodyne public-relations campaigns about “values”, is a recipe for the politicisation of production and sales. But if we also promote politicised consumption, we’re asking consumers to punish companies whose ideas about social responsibility clash with our own. Or, to put it another way, CSR that takes moral disagreement and diversity seriously—that really isn’t a way of using corporations as instruments for the enactment of progressive social change that voters can’t be convinced to support—asks companies with controversial ideas about social responsibility to screw over their owners and creditors and employees for…what?
I’d suggest the best arena for moral disagreement is not the marketplace, but our intellectual and democratic institutions. We hash out our disagreements, as best we can, in public deliberation. The outcome of this deliberation becomes input to official policymaking, which in turn determines the rules of the game for business. Businesses then seek profits within the scope of those rules (and the consensus rules of common decency), and consumers buy the products that best satisfy their preferences. If businesses want to impose on themselves other constraints, fine. But let’s not ask them to do so. And if consumer preferences happen to range over the production chains and management philosophies behind the goods and services they buy, fine. But let’s not ask them to have such pernsickety and political preferences. Of course, this lovely, welfare-maximising arrangement will from time to time break down. For example, when we lose faith in the capacity of our public institutions to reliably translate the results of honest democratic negotiation into policy. Or when old consensus rules of common decency lose general assent.
The basic premise here lies in whether a company should take a political stance that does not affect their profit motive positively in the long-run. Taking a stand on gay marriage will inevitably irritate some group of people that could have otherwise bought your companies product. Supporting lower corporate tax rates or a lower minimum wage, for instance, increases a companies bottom-line in terms of maximizing profit. However, taking a social stand on a culture war issue doesn’t help a business economically (unless they get an appreciation day out of it).
The right often talks about being “pro-business.” Mitt Romney is running for president to supposedly save the country from turning into a European socialist nightmare (or something that sounds scary). In the minds of many Republicans, Obamacare needs to be repealed so it doesn’t hurt businesses. While the merits of these causes depend on your political leanings, I can’t see anything less “pro-business” than taking a stand on a social issue that gains nothing long-term for a business and only makes part of the political spectrum not want to eat at your restaurant. The Republican Party wants to bring together social conservatives and economic conservatives, but these actions seem to be one side of the party intruding on the interests of the other, which is not good for business.