Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Opinion

Ryan, Romney and the art of the humble brag

Let's run down the checklist: Ann Romney gave Mitt a heart. Chris Christie gave him courage. And Paul Ryan gives him a (more conservative) brain.

Mitt Romney is a patchwork candidate. This need not be bad. Garnering things from others can be a form of wisdom. But every president has to have a core. So what is Mitt Romney's core?

The headline in the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday said it all: 'GET TO KNOW HIM.'

The trouble is that Mitt Romney has been running for president for more than five and a half years — he first formally announced on Feb. 13, 2007 — and if those gathered here for the Republican National Convention still need to "get to know him," one wonders what he has been doing all this time.

If you judge people not by what they say but by what they do, Mitt Romney has made one "presidential-level" decision and that was naming Paul Ryan as his running mate.

Ryan is white and he is a man, and neither of those things ever hurt anyone in the Republican Party. Although Ryan has been involved in Washington politics virtually all of his adult life, he is now selling himself as just a down-home boy from Janesville, Wis., population 63,575.

He and his family live in a home on the block he grew up on, and he proudly refers to himself as a "Catholic deer hunter." (Though how he finds Catholic deer to hunt I do not know. Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

Ryan's father, a prominent lawyer, died of a heart attack when Ryan was 16. His mother went back to work and Ryan also found jobs, but his father left a large estate and, as the Los Angeles Times has reported, the wolf never came close to the Ryan family door.

"Ryan grew up in a big Colonial house on a wooded lot, and his extended clan includes investment managers, corporate executives and owners of major construction companies," the paper reported. "Ryan's rise to political power and financial stability was boosted by family connections and wealth."

This is no crime. But for a party dedicated to allowing people to become wealthy and then hanging onto that wealth with both hands, the speeches at this convention have been an orgy of humble bragging.

Chris Christie, who gave the keynote address — though it more properly could have been labeled "Chris Christie in 2016" — said: "Dad grew up in poverty. … Mom also came from nothing. She was raised by a single mother who took three buses to get to work every day."

Ann Romney could not claim modest origins for her husband, so she went back one generation: "Mitt's dad never graduated from college. Instead, he became a carpenter," she said.

And CEO of American Motors. And governor of Michigan.

Nobody has yet claimed to have had a relative who actually split rails, but Abe Lincoln, who split thousands of them, would have been astonished by the speeches at this convention.

Lincoln hated being reminded of his humble origins, hated being called a "rail splitter" and even hated being called Abe. He much preferred being referred to as "the Honorable Abraham Lincoln, Esq.," a former congressman and lawyer, two jobs he was proud of.

But political tastes change. And having done physical labor can be very important in obtaining a job that avoids physical labor.

Ryan has had no practice in running a national or even a statewide campaign. He has never run for anything other than his congressional seat, and he has not had a tough race since 1998, his first race, in which he got 57 percent of the vote.

In his most recent race in 2010, he ran against an unemployed guy named John Heckenlively, whose campaign motto was — I kid you not — "I'm looking for a job."

Ryan, who is parsimonious when it comes to spending money on social programs, had no reservations about spending money when it came to his re-election. He spent $3.9 million to defeat Heckenlively and got 68 percent of the vote.

On Wednesday night, Ryan told the Republican convention: "You are entitled to the clearest possible choice because the time for choosing is drawing near. So here is our pledge. We will not duck the tough issues — we will lead."

Though Ryan is running for vice president in November, he is simultaneously running again for Congress, sort of a backup plan just in case things do not work out with the White House gig. And Ryan has built up a war chest of $5.4 million, which is $2 million more than any other member of Congress has in a campaign account.

Do not expect to hear a lot about this, however. You will hear far more from Ryan about detasseling corn. (Detasseling corn is when you take an ear of corn and pull its tassels off. It is painless. At least for the people doing the detasseling.)

Here is Paul Ryan campaigning in Springfield, Mo., on Aug. 23: "When I was a kid growing up working at McDonald's, detasseling corn, waiting tables, painting houses, things like that, it never occurred to me that I was stuck in some station, fixed in some class."

If he had been fixed in some class, it would have been the upper class, however, which is something many Americans might not mind being stuck in at all.

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