As Mitt Romney announced his Vice Presidential running mate over the weekend, the Beltway chattering class was quick to trumpet the supposed “youthful vigor” Paul Ryan’s selection would inject in a campaign troubled by a summer of Olympic-size gaffes and sinking poll numbers.
In the hours following his announcement, Ryan was also heralded as a “gym rat” and “fitness nut” who was “almost a pro-skier.”
The political spin could not have been more blatant. For a party brimming with octogenarians but lacking in youthful appeal, the Wisconsin native is fresh, young, and even hip — heck, he listens to Nirvana on his iPod!
It is no surprise that the GOP would put Ryan’s age on center stage. It is a political tactic born out of necessity.
With minority populations continuing to grow especially among Hispanic Americans and more young people becoming eligible voters with each passing election cycle, demographics are quickly becoming the biggest threat facing Republicans — bigger even than that socialist, communist, Marxist, Kenyan-born dictator occupying the White House that your cranky uncle writes about in those lengthy chain emails you keep deleting.
Worse still for Republicans, young and independent minded voters are more and more likely to be turned off by the Party’s fetish-like obsession with denying equal rights to lesbian and gay Americans.
If the Republican Party fails to join the twenty-first century, these problems will not just persist – they will increase.
So, what is a party to do when it faces such problems if it is not willing to change course on public policy?
Change the rules to the game of course.
Since President Obama’s election in 2008, Republican Governors have instituted voter I.D. laws in state after state, made it harder or impossible to vote early, and made the process by which Americans register to vote, needlessly complicated. Such moves disproportionately impact the very demographic groups that are causing headaches for Republicans — namely young voters and African and Hispanic Americans.
If you doubt for a moment the motivation behind such efforts, perhaps the words of Pennsylvania state house Majority Leader Mike Turzai well help settle it for you. Speaking at a Republican State Committee meeting, Turzai said his state’s voter I.D. law is “gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Refreshing honesty from a politician, especially when you consider the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently admitted in court fillings there was no known “voter fraud” that would be prevented by the new statute.
While young voters may have trouble casting ballots this fall because of obstacles put in place by Republicans, when they do head to the polls they will not be swayed by Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan. At only 42 years of age, the Republican Congressman is certainly young, but the only thing that makes him “youthful” is the year in which he was born.
If Ryan had his way, student loan interest rates would double and far fewer would be eligible for Federal Pell Grants to help pay for college. For those who do manage to qualify, such grants would be less helpful since Ryan, unlike Obama, would not allow the awards to increase with inflation.
And if young voters and independents have been put off by the Republican Party’s hostility toward lesbian and gay legal equality, they are not likely to be inspired by Ryan — a man who voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality, supports banning adoption by same-sex couples, voted against the hate crimes law President Obama signed, and after first supporting the Employment Non-Discrimination Act which would forbid employers from firing someone simply because they happen to be LGBT, he joined Republicans in trying to kill it. Today, employment discrimination against LGBT Americans remains legal in more than 30 states.
Far from mirroring the young and those of his own generation, Ryan’s views are simply a mimeograph — to borrow a term familiar to the average conservative — of the stodgy, largely white, and old folks running, funding, and supporting today’s Republican Party.
Paul Ryan is a 70-year-old man trapped in the body of young man. He’s the Benjamin Button of American politics and just as Brad Pitt’s portrayal of the character came up short after clinching an Oscar nomination, Ryan’s nomination for Vice President will suffer the same fate.
Karl Frisch is Democratic political strategist at Bullfight Strategies based in Washington, DC. He can be reached at KarlFrisch.com.
This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.