In Wisconsin in the 1970s, there must have been plenty of elementary-school kids who had lofty dreams for their future careers. They thought one day they would become astronauts, play for the Green Bay Packers, or maybe even become president. Yet there was clearly one skinny kid in Janesville who figured out what his dream job would be: chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Yesterday, Rep. Paul Ryan announced that he would not seek the nomination for president. In doing so, he sent the signal that he simply doesn’t want to be the commander-in-chief. Had he run, he would have gotten the GOP nomination; had he gotten the GOP nomination, he would have beaten an incumbent president whose approval rating is currently lower than that of arsenic.
In eschewing a run, Ryan not only tells us a lot about his own constitution, he exposes a little-talked-about fact regarding the presidency: It’s kind of a crummy job. By not becoming president, Ryan dodges a demotion.
The race for the title of “Most Powerful Person in the World” used to be a race for second place — it was just assumed that the American president was the global foreman. But in recent years the office has shrunk in stature. It is now a toothless post replete with big speeches and small ideas. The very reason Barack Obama was such an inspirational candidate is also the reason he is a substandard president; he reminds us that anyone can be president.
Ryan’s handle on numbers and statistics is legendary; if he was in your fantasy football league, he’d show up at the draft with CBO-generated pie charts. As such, he likely recognizes that the presidency is no longer suited to nuts-and-bolts policy formulation; it is now essentially a rhetorical office suited for the amelioration of our individual grievances.
That’s why Ryan was always a longshot to run in 2012 (and why I predicted on TV over the weekend that he wouldn’t): The office is too small for him. The microscope on the presidency takes small ideas and makes them look big; Ryan’s ideas are big enough to be seen from a mile away. And Congress is the place where he has the freedom to stretch out and take them for a test run — a run that hopefully begins in earnest soon.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.