A lesson in crazy brave politics from meek old Mitt
With a single announcement, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has changed the entire complexion of the upcoming American election.
In an uncharacteristically bold move, Romney unveiled policy wonk Congressman Paul Ryan as his pick for Vice President over the weekend. He could not have gifted Barack Obama with a bigger political target.
Ryan is the author of a controversial budget plan that aims to slash government spending, cut taxes and drastically reform America’s increasingly expensive entitlement system.
The plan is politically explosive. It fares poorly in national polling, and Democrats argue that it ruthlessly targets the poor to fund tax cuts for the rich.
Last year, in one particularly colourful ad (see above), they showed a Paul Ryan lookalike tipping an elderly woman in a wheelchair over the edge of a cliff. Subtle stuff.
By selecting the Congressman as his running mate, Mitt Romney has taken ownership of the Ryan budget and made himself vulnerable to a massive scare campaign. Tony Abbott would feel more secure reviving WorkChoices as Coalition policy.
It is an uncharacteristically bold gamble from a candidate who has suffered endless criticism for being overcautious.
Romney had to do something to inject excitement into his campaign. Recent polls have shown President Obama gradually pulling away from the Republican nominee, despite an economic recovery that refuses to gather pace.
It is clearly not enough for Romney to highlight Obama’s failures. He must convince the American people that he is ready to govern, and the selection of Ryan may help. It will at least turn the national debt into a central campaign issue.
It is impossible to effectively address America’s $16 trillion debt situation without reforming entitlements, sacrosanct as they may be. President Obama’s only contribution on entitlement reform so far has been to wait for a Republican proposal and then excoriate it.
Say what you will about Ryan’s budget plan, he has at least displayed enough political courage to address the issue in a meaningful way. Romney has now signalled his willingness to take potentially unpopular proposals to the electorate and fight for them.
The man should be applauded for that boldness, whatever your opinion of his politics. We are forever complaining about politicians who refuse to lead, or to be up front with voters, for fear of the next election. Here we have someone who is doing things differently.
Romney may end up wishing that he had stuck with a small target strategy. Back in Australia, Tony Abbott is living proof of how effective that approach can be. With something concrete to attack, President Obama may coast to re-election quite comfortably.
It would be a painfully ironic victory though. Back in the heady days of “hope and change”, Obama would have wanted conservative ideas to be given a fair hearing. Four years later, with nowhere left to turn, he will make it his mission to tear those ideas down.
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