The Agenda

Josh Kraushaar on the Ryan Biography vs. the Ryan Budget

One of the central goals of the Obama campaign is to dampen support for the GOP ticket among seniors and working-class white voters, as substantial majorities in these constituencies are essential to a Republican victory. This is part of why the president and his allies have focused on emotionally-charged attacks on offshoring, private equity, and other unpopular aspects of the post-Fordist global economy. Paul Ryan’s call for a sweeping modernization of the safety net is a political minefield for closely related reasons. It threatens disruption and change in a domain where voters crave stability. In his latest Against the Grain column, Josh Kraushaar of National Journal argues that Ryan’s small-town origins might nevertheless help shield him from Democratic attacks on his budget proposals:

Ryan’s biography could very well resonate as much as the details of his policy proposals. Already he’s added some much-needed energy to the Romney ticket, and has seamlessly weaved in personal anecdotes that effectively advance the merits of free-market capitalism. “You know, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, you know when I was flipping burgers at McDonald’s, when I was standing in front of that big Hobart machine washing dishes or waiting tables, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life,” Ryan said at a campaign rally on Tuesday in suburban Denver.

It’s that everyman biography — flipping burgers at McDonald’s to pay for college, his Packers fandom, stories of his hunting and fishing exploits — that could be as compelling for blue-collar voters as the details of his entitlement proposals could repel them. There’s a reason that Ryan never faced a tough race since first elected to the House in 1998, despite running in a competitive district that Obama carried. Even as Democrats crowed early on this cycle that his proposal would make him newly vulnerable for his House seat this year, his Democratic challenger Rob Zerban has failed to make inroads against the House member.

Romney says he picked Ryan because of his bold economic proposals, but where he really stands to benefit is Ryan’s combination of everyman sensibility and articulate advocacy of conservative economic principles.

As Kraushaar acknowledges, however, this is definitely a gamble.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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