Dispatches From the Republican National Convention

When Did Paul Ryan Become an Attack Dog?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Aug. 30 2012 1:20 AM

Dispatches From the Republican National Convention

VIEW ALL ENTRIES

Paul Ryan was supposed to be the idea man. So far he’s pure attack dog.

teleprompter ryan speech
The teleprompter for Ryan's speech.

Richard Kalvar/Magnum Photos for Slate.

Paul Ryan is supposed to be a wonk, but we've never really seen this side of him since he's become a vice presidential candidate. So far he has been an articulate Republican Party spokesperson for all of Barack Obama's failings. He hit his rhetorical height Wednesday night at the Republican convention when he unbuckled a long and stinging critique of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party. It was powerful, well received, and passionately delivered. The speech didn't require policy expertise, particularly. Indeed, an expert might feel compelled to avoid the series of inconsistencies and contradictions that were woven through Ryan's jeremiad

John Dickerson John Dickerson

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

Ryan boasted in his speech that he wanted to have a big policy debate, but there's also been no evidence that the Romney/Ryan campaign really wants to have a debate if that means anything other than a rag session on Obama. This is a direct contradiction of the Ryan political model for governing. In 2006, when President George Bush tried to sell a plan for Social Security private accounts, Ryan told his colleagues it was an idea they could run on. Not many did. In later elections, Ryan made the same case. Be specific about revolutionary change and it will serve you politically. That's not the way Ryan is behaving now. The timid promotion of the ideas he supposedly stands for suggests that either Ryan never believed in his original theory or Mitt Romney doesn't believe in it. 

I'd love to see Paul Ryan explain how the premium support plan works, how he arrived at the formula for increasing the voucher-like payment, and why he thinks that amount is the right one. He could explain the economic reasoning behind why Mitt Romney thinks the free market will reduce Medicare costs, maintain quality and not cause a reduction in benefits. What studies makes them think this? He might point to the example of Medicare Part D's savings to give the theoretical underpinnings for Romney's larger theory of savings. Does that mean that the conservatives who were against the part D expansion were wrong?

Let Paul be a wonk or let's stop calling him one. 

When Romney picked Paul Ryan he said that he had a "unique ability to get people to come together." This is not supported by Paul Ryan's resume, which contains no bipartisan achievements of note. It certainly wasn't found in the speech Ryan delivered to Republicans on Wednesday night. He talked about Obama's "government-planned life," which sounded like the cartoon speech of talk radio. A number of his lines were politically powerful. "After four years of getting a runaround, America needs a turnaround and Mitt Romney is the man for the job."

When Ryan uses his policy expertise to make his case against the president it is effective politics. When he plays with the numbers, elides his own role in budget failures, and only tells half the story, he is acting like a politician. Right now he is definitely filling the role of the vice presidential attack dog. But he might also be undermining the trust the campaign has been asking for from voters. Trust Mitt, Ann Romney said last night. When he's doing bold things you know he'll be fair and that he has a good heart. But if the idea man on the ticket only uses his skills for bare-knuckled attacks and disingenuous sales pitches, why should voters trust that he won't do the same thing once Romney is in office?
 

John

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Why Time Is on Our Side in the Fight Against Ebola

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

Catacombs Where You Can Stroll Down Hallways Lined With Corpses

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 1 2014 4:55 PM Blood Before Bud? Must a gentleman’s brother always be the best man at his wedding?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 4:46 PM Ebola Is No Measles. That’s a Good Thing. Comparing this virus to scourges of the past gives us hope that we can slow it down.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?