The August day Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate, I called my 82-year-old mother, a lifelong, left-wing Democrat. What did she think of the choice?
“I think they were very good to us,” she told me.
And indeed, they were. For while many Americans didn’t know who Romney was or what he stood for beyond the Republican mantle and fabled millions, they knew well enough who Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman, was.
For every flip-flop of Romney’s – the right to choose, the rightness of guaranteed health care, the wisdom of bailing out the auto industry – Ryan, to his credit, remained ever clear in his policy positions. He would cut Medicare payments to the elderly, sending them instead to the private market for their health care. He would cut retirement benefits. He would cut taxes for the wealthy and for the almost wealthy, too.
But while American voters like nothing better than the idea of slashing the budget and keeping their tax dollars for themselves, they hate nothing more than the actuality of doing without government-provided programs like Medicare, Social Security and unemployment relief.
Ryan’s austere economic program, which his GOP colleagues passed in the U.S. House, drew a distinct picture of an nation without the safety net of benefits Americans have known since FDR. This, my mother said, voters could not countenance.
Through the poll-saturated weeks of early fall, to President Barack Obama’s miserable showing in the first debate to the last days’ dead heat, mama didn’t waver. No way voters would elect a man who would throw them under the bus.
The rhetoric in presidential campaigns may have changed during the last 30 years, but the debate hasn’t. Candidates insist on pitching the American public with politics’ biggest canard – that they can have their benefits, their military might, their day-to-day services and the industrialized world’s lowest taxes, too. The only difference is, this election, voters didn’t buy it.
From picking a worthy political message to picking a running mate, the lesson is clear: listen to your mama.