Republicans have been playing a game of ‘wait, wait, don’t tell me,’ but with a twist. Instead, their version goes “wait, wait, don’t tell you!” Phantom campaigns are all the rage, ever since the Republican take over of everything in 2010. In addition to retaking the House, they took over numerous state legislatures and governorships. During the 2010 campaign, they all promised to work on the number one issue facing the country: jobs, jobs, jobs. Program and policy specifics were in short supply, thus fulfilling the “wait, wait, don’t tell you!” hidden agenda. However, by trumpeting their fealty to jobs, jobs, jobs, and their disdain for Obamacare, they sounded the charge towards victory and power.
Once they got in power, the tune changed, quickly and dramatically. Jobs bills never surfaced. Instead, they launched an onslaught of bills to strangle women’s healthcare, to dismantle public employee unions, to force cities in financial difficulty into receivership, to introduce dubious impediments in order to vote, and of course bills that made corporations richer at the expense of diminished state coffers. It was an old bait and switch, played out from Maine to Ohio to Michigan to Wisconsin and beyond. Some folks got mad enough to initiate recall elections in an attempt to depose the newly installed Republican politicians. In Wisconsin, the effort to recall Governor Scott Walker failed, but the state senate did flip from Republican to Democrat, thus ending the rubber stamping of Governor Walker’s initiatives. Similarly in Ohio, efforts to dismantle public worker unions were overturned by a grassroots initiative.
Still, despite the battles that have arisen, the pattern for Republican candidates has been to smile a lot, say little, then get busy with the real agenda once in power. Mitt Romney has heretofore followed this agenda: vague answers, non-specific policies, and mostly just attack the hell out of the other guy. Of course with Mr. Romney, it’s hard to pin down what he says, means, or stands for from one minute to the next, sort of like quantum mechanics. He’s the Schrödinger’s cat of electoral politics.
This all ended last weekend when he announced Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate. Interestingly, one of the issues that Mr. Romney has not addressed directly is the Ryan budget plan. Mr. Ryan’s plan, the “Path to Prosperity,” is very specific. This spoils the “wait, wait, don’t tell you!” narrative. And that makes some Republican’s nervous. The plan already has acted as a lightening rod for criticism, particularly the bit about ending Medicare and replacing it with vouchers. When folks on Medicare say “keep your hands off my Medicare” they mean it. The issue has been cited as one of the chief reasons that Republicans lost two vacancy filling special elections, one in a conservative district in New York, the other being former Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s seat.
Markos Moulitsas went as far as declaring that adding Mr. Ryan to the ticket not only doomed Mr. Romney’s own campaign — which had been suffering in opinion polls lately — but it may have dashed Republican hopes for retaking the Senate and they may even lose the House. Eh. Slowdown, I say. Let’s not pop the bubbly just yet. November is still a ways off. But one thing is certain: Mr. Romney will no longer be able to hide behind vagueness during the campaign and get away with it. It wasn’t doing him any good beforehand, but now any vagueness will look particularly silly when he has the architect of a well known plan on his ticket.
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