After Shabbat ended last night, my inbox was fraught with turmoil. Dueling Jewish e-mails began to show up – bashing or boosting GOP hopeful Mitt Romney’s selection of Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate. At 9:05 pm on the dot, the National Jewish Democratic Council and the Republican Jewish Coalition both landed in my e-mail, firing off competing salvos that are indicative in what they did – and didn’t – say.
I’ll admit that my first thought when I heard about Romney’s choice was that this is going to be the ticket of very carefully sculpted hair.
I opened the NJDC’s email first – mostly because of my years doing headline news. Criticism is more likely than compliments to drive a headline. Can you see me leading off this blog with a headline “Romney Praises Running-mate”? The NJDC fulfilled industry expectations by using the press-release meme of “expressed alarm” regarding Ryan.
NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris was quoted as saying:
"Mitt Romney''s selection of Paul Ryan to serve as his vice presidential candidate is the clearest indication yet that Romney does not reflect the values of most American Jews. Ryan''s signature budget plan drew the profound concern and even ire of many in the American Jewish community because of its plans to end Medicare as we know it, slash vital social safety net programs, and increase the burden on seniors, the middle class, and the poor -- yet Romney today proudly hitched his horse to Ryan''s dangerous plan. This alarming partnership between Romney and Ryan will further reinforce the reasons why such a significant majority of American Jews will be voting to reelect President Barack Obama this November."
More analysis to follow, but you can almost hear the giggles at the “hitched the horse” reference. I propose a new game: take a drink every time the anti-Romneys mention horses in connection with Rafalco’s owner’s husband.
Now for the pro-Romneys. The RJC “praised” Gov. Mitt Romney for selecting Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, “citing his determination to face our nation''s most serious problems and his record of proven leadership.”
RJC Executive Director Matt Brooks was quoted as saying "Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan are right to reject the notion that America is doomed to economic stagnation and a loss of influence around the world.”
"Paul Ryan has challenged both party leaderships in Washington to face up to growing fiscal problems that threaten to blight our nation''s future. And while congressional Republicans have responded to the challenge, Democrats have ducked responsibility. The Democrat-controlled US Senate hasn''t passed a budget since 2009. And Obama''s Treasury Secretary admitted to Congressman Ryan that the administration prefers to only criticize GOP efforts and therefore, will not put a plan of its own to save Medicare and other troubled programs on the table.”
The RJC emphasized that Ryan had not tried to cut defense funds, a contentious and divisive issue within the right flank of the Republican Party. The press release also framed Romney’s choice within the bid to push Romney’s credentials as the more pro-Israel candidate:
"We are pleased that by picking Paul Ryan, Gov. Romney has opted for a running
mate who has a record Israel''s Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, has already praised as ''very supportive'' of the Jewish state. Paul Ryan has earned appreciation from pro-Israel voters by rejecting the Obama administration''s tactic of pressuring Israel to make concessions its leaders believe will undermine its security - and he rightly insists that a rejection of violence and incitement on the Palestinian side is an essential precondition for a meaningful peace agreement."
So what’s missing?
1) I was very surprised that the NJDC did not mention Ryan’s firm stand on the issue of birth control. I would have thought that Ryan’s stand on abortion would have made the Democrats salivate. Ryan has a tough anti-abortion record that could make him a problem for the Jewish midline who are considered to be both pro-Israel and pro-choice.
2) Republicans didn’t have to mention, and probably won’t, Ryan’s Randian proclivities. I actually just finished a Rand biography, and can see how this could cut both ways among Jewish (and, for that matter, Evangelical) voters. Rand was – unlike Ryan – a dogmatic atheist, which certainly never won her points among the Religious Right. On the other hand, objectivism historically enjoyed a following among sectors of the Jewish intelligentsia. Rand herself and almost all of her closest supporters were of Jewish heritage. I would expect to see the anti-R2 forces drumming the Rand business up to portray Ryan as a budgetary ideologue rather than a pragmatic spending-trimmer. (Note – a relatively apolitical friend innocently said that she had initially misread the headline and thought that Romney had appointed Ron Paul. The error is perhaps less distinct – at least budgetarily – than she may have thought.)
Ryan represents a choice by the Romney campaign to shore up the right rather than playing to the center – a choice similar to the one made by McCain in 2008. Unlike Sarah Palin, however, Paul Ryan is a Washington veteran (on his seventh House term) who is unlikely to make the amateurish slips for which Palin became known. And unlike Palin – who brought with her the electoral non-power of Alaska – R-2 hopes that Ryan will deliver Wisconsin, a 10-electoral-vote boon that went to Obama in the last elections. In a race expected to be as close as November is looking to be, those 10 votes may be all the Romney-Ryan ticket needs to bring home victory.