Romney’s Choice and the “Choice Election”

Greetings from America’s Heartland, or more specifically, from Java Joe’s in Des Moines, Iowa. As Ryan has already reported (and as officially confirmed by the Romney campaign a few minutes ago), Mitt Romney has bypassed more vanilla options to choose Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running-mate.

This decision is one of those rare moments in a polarized political environment where activists on both sides of the barricades will join in lusty, uninhibited cheers. For movement conservatives, Ryan is everything Romney isn’t: a loud-and-proud ideologue whose budget proposals have become the great symbol of the long-suppressed desire on the Right to unravel the New Deal/Great Society legacy and institute a significantly more regressive federal tax system. He’s also a down-the-line cultural conservative. It’s not every politician–much less one purported to be a serious intellectual–who can claim both Randian glorification of selfishness and conservative Catholic social thinking as major influences, but that’s what makes Ryan the most appropriate avatar of contemporary conservative politics.

For progressives, the choice of Ryan makes the task of exposing Mitt Romney’s agenda for the future of the country–already mortgaged to the conservative movement as the price of his nomination–vastly easier. The choice of a running-mate is often described as the “first presidential decision” of any party nominee. By picking Ryan, Romney has finally forfeited any opportunity to pose as a technocratic crypto-moderate who is a safe alternative for voters disappointed by life under the Obama administration. All along, Obama’s reelection has depended largely on his ability to make November 6 a clear and dramatic choice between two future courses for the country rather than a referendum on the status quo. The Romney-Ryan ticket makes a “choice election” unavoidable.

So the remainder of this election cycle has gotten significantly more interesting. It’s game on, for real.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.