Conservatives were happy when Romney chose Paul Ryan.
They saw him as a leader with the courage of a lion.
On abortion and on Medicare they’re sure he’ll never pander.
But is the country ready for an out-and-out Ayn Rander?
In the U.S., I’ve noted in previous blogs, every President and every major presidential candidate has been the target of sustained satire. And the same is true of actual and potential vice-presidents..
For John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s first VP, satirists need not bother, The Vice-Presidency, he said, is “not worth a bucket of warm piss.”
Still, presidential candidates have always agonized over their choice of running-mates, hoping that their geographical base, socio-economic background, gender, or personality, will add strength to their ticket. In some cases – Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden – their potential to succeed to the presidency has been cited, evidenced by their being given far more important responsibilities in office than was thought possible by John Nance Garner.
But whatever the reasons for their selection they are never immune from the lash of satirists. Consider some recent examples:
Dan Quayle, the choice of George H.W. Bush, was mocked for his constant production of semantic and intellectual absurdities:
“It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
"A lower turnout is an indication of fewer people going go the polls.”
“We are ready for any unforeseen event that may or may not occur.”
“I stand by all the misstatements that I’ve made.”
And, attending a children’s spelling bee, he insisted that there should be an “e” at the end of “potato”.
Al Gore impersonators mocked him as stiff and boring; and when he claimed that in Congress “I took the initiative in creating the Internet” he provoked an unending barrage of jokes accusing him of claiming that he had invented the Internet.
Dick Cheney was parodied in cartoons and videos as the evil genius of the GW Bush era, a diabolical Darth Vader, an enthusiastic water-boarding torturer; and also as a bumbler who accidentally shot a close friend on a hunting trip.
Joe Biden’s repeated tendency to make politically injudicious comments led to jokes like Jay Leno’s jibe when Biden was sent on a foreign tour that the White House was calling it “Operation keep Biden away from the microphone.”
And Sarah Palin was, on the one hand, the most enthusiastically welcomed of all vice-presidential choices, and on the other more derided than any other in history. Her gross lack of knowledge about anything outside of Alaska (for example, she was knowledgeable about world affairs because “I can see Russia from my desk”; and she thought the Queen ran the British government) quickly became apparent in TV interviews; and few examples of the political damage implicit in political satire compare with Tina Fey’s uncanny impersonation of Palin on Saturday Night Live.
By contrast, the current choice, Paul Ryan, is knowledgeable and articulate, and cannot easily be parodied as a buffoon, an ignoramus, or a devouring monster. Yet cartoonists, late night humorists, and bloggers have had no difficulty in finding his areas of vulnerability.
To begin with there is his cheerful, pleasant appearance and personality – an asset to many but too prissy for satirists, who prefer rough edges to perfection. So to David Letterman he looked “like one of those guys who pretend to be a doctor on an infomercial. He reminds me of the guy at the Olive Garden who comes over to see how everything was.” Ryan and Mitt Romney “look like father and son dentists,” or (to Jimmy Kimmel), “like a father and son in an ad for Super Cuts.”
But more cutting than these jibes at his appearance was the more substantial issue of the perceived contrast between physical appearance and policy. For Romney had chosen Ryan to shore up his questionable standing with the right wing of the Republican party.
Immediately, therefore, commentators declared that Romney, by focusing attention on Ryan’s highly controversial policies, especially on the budget and Medicare, had made a “bold” choice. “Bold?” asked Jon Stewart. By selecting “a white Christian male”?
But Ryan’s persona was one more indication that Romney was basing his campaign largely on an appeal to the Tea Party and to the diminishing but still electorally potent bloc of white, non-college-educated males. So liberal satirists pounced on the contrast between Ryan’s cheerful, outgoing personality and the harsh policies he advocated so remorselessly.
Maureen Dowd protested that he “made cruelty cute.” He was ”Scrooge disguised as a Pickwick ...He’s so easy to like – except that his policies are a teeny bit heartless.”
For Andy Borowitz Ryan believed that trillions could be cut from the budget “if we eliminate empathy”; and “when Romney and Ryan call themselves “America’s comeback team”, they mean they want America to come back to 1860”. Borowitz also enjoyed Ryan’s requiring his interns to read Ayn Rand: “So I guess we know where he stands on torture.” Maureen Dowd, too, was fascinated by Ryan’s enthusiasm for Randism, which she saw as “a state of arrested adolescence” (though Dowd reminded us that Ryan co-sponsored a bill giving personhood to a fertilized egg, whereas Rand was an assertive atheist).
Romney’s choosing Ryan., intended to reassure Republicans of his conservative credentials, did not necessarily win their trust. Stephen Colbert, in his role as a right-wing FoxNews pundit, almost leaped with delight at Romney’s gaffe when he introduced Ryan as “the next President of the United States.” This means, Colbert exulted, that, despite the result of the primaries, “I don’t have to vote for Romney.” And Onion offered a scenario in which Ryan’s “tough, no-nonsense talk and firm commitment to conservative principles” led to his taking to the campaign trail and “viciously attacking Romney’s record as a pro-abortion crusader and shameless political chameleon.”
To the Daily Kos all this was in a losing cause. Ryan, joked the magazine, had destroyed his promising future and committed political suicide by running as Romney’s VP.
This reflected the Democratic party’s general delight that Romney had selected Ryan. Of course, their pleasure did not altogether dispose of an undercurrent of unease: What if the last laugh in November was on them?