How many others, besides me, spent several minutes in August 2008 scratching our heads in wonder and saying over and over again, simply ….. “Biden?”
Maybe it was because so many of us felt that then-Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama was likely to do something bold, maybe electrifying, in his selection of a vice presidential running mate. There was the brief suspense of wondering if Obama would select the rival who had fought him all the way to the convention, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, thus giving Democrats what could have been viewed as one of their most dynamic tickets in ages, perhaps since a Massachusetts Senator named John Kennedy teamed up with a Texas colleague by the name of Lyndon Johnson in 1960.
And then so many of us wondered, would Hillary even accept the No. 2 slot ….
But it never happened. Instead, Obama did the equivalent of serving his dinner guests a plate of cold mashed potatoes for dinner when he selected Delaware Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. The man had been in office since 1972, had run for president in 1988 and dropped out after facing plagarism charges, then ran again in 2008 and was as early an also-ran as they get. He was considered a man who talks too much, and too quickly, and just as quickly comes to regret some of the things he just said. He excited no one beyond his own family. So again, many of us wondered what Obama was thinking.
Mediocre VP choices are nothing new; but the critical thinking back in the summer of 2008 was that Obama, the first African American nominee, would provide all the sizzle and excitement the ticket needed, so he truly did want cold mashed potatoes by his side.
A similar sentiment came up this year, in fact, when speculation went out that Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, might select New Jersey’s outspoken governor, Chris Christie as his running mate. The same dilemma arose, in reverse; since some consider Romney a wooden speaker on the stump, prone to Biden-style gaffs, there was the concern that a firebrand like Christie might hopelessly outshine him.
That led to speculation that Romney didn’t need excitement, he needed someone bland but assuring, someone solid in experience, but low key in temperament and personality. Speculation focused on the likes of Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, both so vanilla and wooden as to make Pinocchio blush.
But that’s not what happened. Romney went in the other direction entirely.
He actually went with excitement.
And I suspect when the Republican party meets in Tampa at the end of this month, you’re likely to see a party that truly is excited, energized and enthusiastic. Because Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin who was chosen by Romney as his running mate, is not only a genuine hero to party conservatives for his efforts as real budget reform, but also a personable politician, very smooth on television, who doesn’t speak in the language of bland political cliches as so many other politicos do.
In other words … wow — a smart VP choice.
Ryan fits the bill perfectly in a lot of ways. He’s got the experience (he was first elected to Congress in 1998), represents a swing state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984 and had been leaning to Obama (Obama 50 percent, Romney 45 percent, according to the latest Marquette University poll), and his focus has not been on the so-called “culture war” issues (Ryan voted to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians in 2007).
Instead, he was the author of “The Path to Prosperity,” a budget outline that called for freezing most domestic spending for five years, repealing the Obama stimulus plan and shrinking federal spending.
He’s even been willing to admit that the Republican party lost its way in the Bush years, spending as wildly as the opposition party had.
“We lost our brand as the party of fiscal responsibility, and we’ve got to get it back,” Ryan said. “It’s important that we give voters a very clear choice on fiscal policy.”
When they meet in Tampa, I suspect the party will do just that.
Despite the sluggish economy and the fact that unemployment has stayed above 8 percent for virtually the entire Obama presidency, the president’s supporters have been optimistic in recent days. No fewer than three national polls released on Friday — including one by conservative Fox News — showed Obama pulling ahead of Romney.
With the choice of Paul Ryan, Romney made the best possible choice he could.
And it seems certain that he once again has made this a race he clearly can win.
Contact Mike Freeman at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.