Beyond the Romney sidekick's beautiful calm lurks a lot of rage
OPINION:The fresh Generation X vice-presidential contender, Paul Ryan, at first blush emanates a thoughtful, reassuring reasonableness
WHAT HAPPENS when you realise you are the machine you’re raging against?
Tom Morello, the Grammy-winning, Harvard-educated guitarist for the metal rap band Rage Against the Machine, punctured Paul Ryan’s pretensions to cool in a Rolling Stone essay rejecting R&R (Romney’n’Ryan) as R&R (rock’n’roll).
“He is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades,” Morello writes, adding: “I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment.
“Basically, the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s grovelling in front of for campaign contributions.”
In my experience, when a presidential candidate needs some outside force to animate him – Michael Dukakis needed Kitty, Bob Dole needed C-Span, Willard needs Paul – it spells doom.
The fresh Generation X vice-presidential contender – like Sarah Palin, he favours the exclamation “awesome” – has had mixed reviews in his debutante cotillion.
Howard Fineman wrote in the Huffington Post that “Ryan turns out, upon closer inspection, not to be a purifying ideologue, but rather a young, power-hungry, ladder-climbing trimmer”. The self-styled deficit cutter backed Bush’s deficit-exploding agenda, and the tut-tutting critic of the Obama stimulus grabbed for the president’s stimulus money.
Neocons and tea partiers, however, continued to rhapsodize. Grover Norquist told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that Ryan would be the Dick Cheney of economic and tax policy. And that’s a compliment.
The comparison is apt. Ryan looks like a bonus Romney son, as Dan Quayle did with Bush senior. Republicans find the tableau of two rich white guys – same shirts, different generations – comforting. With Bush and Cheney, the usual order switched and the vice-presidential candidate played the role of surrogate dad.
Where Ryan is like Cheney is in tone: at first blush, the Wisconsin congressman emanates a thoughtful, reassuring reasonableness, talking to reporters and sometimes Democratic lawmakers. Cheney’s deep voice, like the headmaster of a boys’ prep school, seemed moderate and measured, too, at first. But it is deceptive. Both men are way, way out there.
It is, to use a phrase coined by French doctors, la belle indifférence, or “the beautiful calm” of hysterical people. But the closer you look, the uglier it gets.