The choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's Vice-Presidential running mate means two things for Canadians; the first, that a second term for Barack Obama and Joe Biden is inevitable and the second, that there will be great political theatre south of the border right up until the Presidential election on November 6. Forget the Olympics; this election will have all of the competition with none of the sportsmanship.
Paul Ryan is polling as the least popular Vice-Presidential candidate since Dan Quayle. Only Sarah Palin or a tomato would have been a worse choice. As bad as this is for the Romney campaign, it might even be worse for the tone we can expect from the upcoming Presidential election.
Contrary to the opinion of many who believe Ryan's selection will make the campaign more about the "hard" issues like Medicare or entitlement spending, it is instead more likely to facilitate the descent of those issues into a cheap caricature of their true nature and begin a race for each candidate to define the other in the most unfair way possible. The inverse of the prevailing commentary on Ryan's selection will be true; it will generate more discussion about serious subjects in an unserious way.
There may be more debate about a serious subject like entitlement spending, but that debate will have an unsavoury racial undertone. There may be more debate about a serious subject like Medicare, but that debate will sound like talk of death panels or grandmothers having their medication taken away.
There may be more debate about serious subjects but it will be caustic, eating away at the precious middle ground that is vital for political accommodation between good people who legitimately disagree. The Republicans will claim that a second term for Obama will mean the end of the American dream and the Democrats that a first term for Romney is the beginning of an American nightmare. When ideas are expressed in such extremes there exists little room for reasonable accommodation.
The Romney campaign could have chosen Marco Rubio out of Florida or Rob Portman out of Ohio to be vice presidential running mates. Either would have been better at reaching out to the undecided and independent voter. Rubio may have been particularly good at reaching out to the Hispanic vote. The decision instead to double-down on the conservative elements of the Republican base will be seen in the future as a serious mistake.
Like a poker player who overplays his hand, this decision makes clear the little confidence the Mitt Romney campaign has in Mitt Romney. It is not rational to make so risky a choice unless you are seeking to change the terms of the national conversation and desperate to do so because you think your candidate is losing.
Such fears were also present in 2008, when Senator John McCain in a similar fashion found himself losing to Senator Barack Obama. He needed a candidate that would turn the national conversation away from a negative like his age or the historic nature of Barack Obama's Presidency. He threw a Hail Mary pass and chose an unknown Governor from Alaska as his running mate. He too hoped that this relatively unknown figure, Governor Sarah Palin, would re-energize his candidacy.
As any football player will tell you, a Hail Mary pass isn't named after a saint because it's a guaranteed catch, and many believe Palin hurt not only his candidacy but his legacy. As a Canadian, I think we all owe the Senator a debt of gratitude for the hours of entertainment his elevation of the unknown Senator from Alaska provided us. It was like the "Dark Knight Rises" only a comedy; you couldn't take your eyes off the screen.
Ryan will not self destruct like Palin did; he is an intensely bright and articulate person who by all accounts is easy to like. Still, the same Romney who said London may not have been "ready" for the Olympics would be wise to be "ready" for retirement from politics come November 7, 2012.