Romney and The Tebow Effect

He wasn’t his first choice and he wasn’t his second choice. Those two were undoubtedly the safe choices, Pawlenty and Portman, the two mainstream, blow-dried stiffs who’d have been happy to stand innocuously behind Romney like political wives on prozac. But most importantly for the Republican nominee, either of those choices would have said that Romney was enough. A do-no-harm sidekick would have told America that Romney didn’t need any help, just a warm, competent body. But with sliding poll numbers starting to solidify unfavorably, Willard Romney bowed to the Republican party and monied voices around him and did what he is most loathe to do- he gambled and took Paul Ryan as his running mate. While this was supposed to be his moment, like John McCain before him, he now finds himself little more than an MC between a rock star and the teeming mosh pits of true believers. The pick also tells us all that the party is looking past their lackluster nominee to a future with the man Dick Cheney said he “worships the ground he walks on.” No one ever said that about Willard Romney, and from now on the Tebow Effect will be in play- the fans will be watching their hero standing on the sidelines rather than the guy who’s actually on the field.

But unlike four years ago, Romney’s problem is even worse in key respects than John McCain’s. Unlike the comical Sarah Palin, who also lit the fire and drew the crowds, Ryan will also be the one who can handle questions and speak to the press. Where Romney lives on a seven second delay before answering any question to try to avoid a gaffe, Ryan answers questions quickly and effortlessly. Where Romney gives off the odor of a slimy used car salesman who will say anything to see you drive a new car off the lot, Ryan earnestly looks the camera in with big blue eyes and is frank and honest, or at least as frank and honest as a politician can be.

What makes the Ryan pick most interesting is that it tells us the actual state of the Republican Party. It tells us that the conservative wing of our politics is betting that 2012 will either be a replay of 1964, when their champion ideologue provided the national spear tip for their movement, or 1980, when another right wing zealot considered unpalatable to the American electorate was packaged well enough to make the sale. Either way, the guys and gals with the money, the most conservative of the lot, will feel vindicated. They will have injected their draconian political virus into the American bloodstream and cutting their taxes even further and killing off Social Security and Medicare will be on the table.

Those voices in the center and left of center, like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who are chuckling and licking their chops over the Ryan choice would do well to review the 1980 race. The left made the very same noises and were staggered when their seemingly moribund incumbent with few answers proved no match for a candidate with new energy, a sense of vision and purpose and an ability to wrap himself in the iconography of Americana. While Barack Obama is not Jimmy Carter, he is far more “likable” and does not have an international hostage crisis on his plate, his presidency certainly has stalled. Whether you, quite rightly, observe that there really isn’t much an American president can do about international finance, or point to congressional gridlock, it is hard to argue that his administration appears mired in political mud. There is no “vision thing” coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Neither Romney nor Ryan is Ronald Reagan, but a lot of folks on the right, with very deep pockets, are wagering that Ryan could become his own generations version. Win or lose, they now have the franchise quarterback to build their team around, and while they’d like to win this year, their eyes are on their golden boy for the future. Those in the center and left, who have essentially done nothing but back-pedal since Lyndon Johnson was run out of town, had better start looking past the sputtering unions and the tired old veterans like Biden’s and Hillary’s for young talent to fight the next generation’s wars. And it would help greatly to have someone with the “vision thing.”

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