Rep. Ryan spoke to a home-state newspaper this weekend in an attempt to defuse criticism of the Romney-Ryan campaign from opponents and sympathizers alike. He shrugged off criticism from right-wing opinionators, observing that "the nature of conservative punditry is...to kind of complain about any imperfection they might see." Ryan himself feels that he and his running-mate have an ace in the hole: the incumbent's record. He credits Obama with "enormous political skills," which is more than some Democrats will concede, but sees "his record [and] his broken promises" as the President's "Achilles heel." He expects the Obama campaign to continue distracting the country but "in the closing arguments of this, when people bring their minds to bear, do they want four more years of this same stuff? Especially when we're offering specific alternatives on how to fix these problems, and (there is) just his utter failure of leadership. I think we're going to be fine."
Despite Ryan's own talk about "specific alternatives" and his ironic accusation that Obama claims there is "no alternative" to Democratic policy ("There is no alternative" is Margaret Thatcher's line, the "conservative" line), his comments reflect an irreducible Republican complacency that the campaign can't afford. Ryan shares the partisan assumption that anyone dissatisfied with Obama's record has to vote for Romney. he assumes that there is no other alternative to Obama than Romney, that every dissatisfied voter is a Romney voter. But that's not the case. None of us is locked into a choice between voting for Obama or voting for Romney. We can go without voting for President, or we can vote for third parties on the right or left. Ryan's hope is that dissatisfaction with Obama will lead to an uncritical endorsement of Romney, that if you take the Clint Eastwood view that we've got to get rid of the guy who's failed, the only way to be sure we're rid of him is to vote for his strongest rival. Republicans hope that people will vote for Romney for the sole reason of getting rid of Obama. For ideologues like Ryan, his party's "specific alternatives" are simply icing on the cake. Objectively, however, Obama's failures prove nothing about Romney's worthiness for the Presidency. You could believe that Obama is failing, or has failed, yet still believe that Romney and Ryan, with all their specific alternatives, would do worse. In their emphasis on Obama's record, the Republicans expect Americans to conclude that anyone would be better than him -- but that doesn't follow. That's why the focus has fallen on Romney and his impolitic opinions. We don't have to vote for him. We don't have to take it for granted that he'll do better than Obama. It might even be the conservative thing to stand pat with an apparent failure rather than take chances with the risk takers on the Republican side. On the other hand, there are more "conservative" candidates than Romney in the race. Republicans complain that Obama is doing nothing but tear down their candidate, but if the Republicans' best argument is Obama's record, that's just as much a case of "tearing down" a candidate, while Ryan's "specific alternatives" are really no more than the same old Republican "freedom" and "personal responsibility" rhetoric. We've all heard it all before, and we all know that they intend to sacrifice more workers on the altar of competitiveness in the hope that they'll be resurrected miraculously by the divine job creators. Whether any of us have or haven't fallen for that before, why should any of us fall for that now, just because Barack Obama may be a failure as President? Until the Republicans give up the idea that no one has any choice but to vote for them, the Romney-Ryan campaign will say in trouble until the bitter end.