Paul Ryan: The deer hunter who would be president

“Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea, the other was elected Vice-President, and nothing was ever heard of either of them again.”

That witty quote came from Thomas R. Marshall, who just happened to be US Vice-President for two terms (1913-1921) under Woodrow Wilson. In his early years, he took to drink, and gave up alcohol after marrying his wife when he was 41.

A self-effacing man, he even refused to assume the presidency when Wilson suffered a stroke in October 1919 and was incapacitated for 17 months – even though the US Constitution allowed it.  This led many to conclude that the office of Vice-President didn’t amount to anything – a conclusion reinforced by another V-P, John Nance Garner, who was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s deputy for two terms (1933-1941). Garner was reported to have said the vice-presidency “isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit,” although his biographer, O.C. Fisher, claimed he really said it wasn’t worth “a pitcher of warm piss.” Garner reportedly told Fisher: “Those pantywaist writers wouldn’t print it the way I said it.”

Given the low esteem in which even holders of the office regarded the post, why has the media, both here and overseas, made so much of Mitt Romney’s announcement this week that he had chosen as his running mate another right-wing Republican, Paul Ryan, a 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin – the state to the west of Michigan, where Romney was born and raised, and his father was governor.

Well, that’s easy, aside from the V-P being only a heartbeat from the presidency and the fact that this has been one of the most boring presidential election campaigns ever, with Romney winning the Republican primaries against the likes of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, the GOP has decided they can defeat the Democrats by focusing on the economy and class warfare.

Ryan has been chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee for the past two years, hates government spending and wants to overhaul the tax system. Unlike Romney, who backed a Medicare program similar to Mr Obama’s when he was governor of Massachusetts, Ryan has always criticised “Obamacare,” and is a favourite of the conservative Tea Party, who were reluctant to support Romney because of his liberal past.

Coming from a prominent Catholic family in his hometown of Janesville, Ryan is happy to answer questions about his religion, offering a contrast to Mitt Romney, who’s a Mormon and doesn’t want to talk about his. Ryan is also a deer hunter, although he often uses a bow and arrow, and is a proud member of the Janesville Bowmen, the local archery association, reports the New York Post, which also published the photo above of the man and his deer – not likely to please animal welfare groups, but will delight the gun lobby.

A family man with a wife and three young children, Ryan is also proud of his small-town roots where he learned self-reliance, which led Mitt Romney to wax lyrical when he introduced him as his running mate: “Paul’s father died when he was in high school. That forced him to grow up earlier than any man should, but Paul did, with the help of his devoted mother, his brothers and sister, and a supportive community.” Journalists on the campaign trail are already talking about the bromance between Romney and Ryan.

The Republicans certainly seemed to have learned from their Sarah Palin experience: this time they knew what they were getting in a running mate.

If you are interested in finding out more about Paul Ryan, I’d recommend this long piece in the New York Times Four Times reporters talked to just about everybody who knew him from his Janesville days to his college days in Ohio, to Washington where he found a second father in Jack Kemp, a former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills, a Congressman and presidential candidate, to his present days as the darling of the Tea Party. We even discover that he was an altar boy. To which I can only reply: “Deo Gratias.” (Okay, I was one, too, but I got suspended for sneaking out of a Queen of the May practice one Friday afternoon!)

The Times research extended to Ryan’s wealth. Ryan bought a 6-bedroom estate around the corner from his childhood home. The estate belonged to an heir of the Parker Pen family – the famous pen company which was founded in Janesville but was shut down in 1999 only weeks after he entered Congress – and Ryan is said to be worth between $2 million and $7.7 million. You can see how he and Mitt Romney struck up an instant friendship, especially given Ryan’s ties to right-wing donors like the conservative billionaire philanthropists David and Charles Koch, who founded the Tea Party-inspired group, Americans for Prosperity


And this is where two rich white guys from the US Midwest are forging a campaign that will make Australian Labor Party’s class warfare look like a game of Monopoly. Ryan’s budget plan would force Romney to make big reductions in college loans, food stamps and low-cost housing to accommodate tax cuts for the wealthiest (although Romney denies he is bound by Ryan’s budget). Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson interviewed David Stockman, Ronald Reagan’s former budget director, last year, and even Stockman admitted the Ryan plan would mean class warfare: “Ryan takes out the ax and goes after the very small part of the budget that’s either discretionary spending or means-tested programs for the poor – which is the last thing you ought to cut, not the first thing. That just doesn’t make any sense. It can’t work. And it simply exacerbates class warfare within the fiscal debate.”

Dickinson lists the five fatal flaws in Romney’s choice of Ryan as V-P that could cost him the election:

1.) Who’s the Boss? Romney or Ryan

2.) All Right, Right Now!? The pick drags Romney further to the right.

3.) Don’t Tax Me, Bro: The Ryan plan would mean Romney would pay no taxes!

4.) It’s the Medicare, Stupid: Medicare recipients under the Ryan plan would bear a much larger share of their healthcare costs than they do under the current program.

5.) Even Reagan Republicans Call Ryan’s Approach “Class Warfare”: As discussed above.

So here goes my prediction: Romney and Ryan will accuse Barack Obama of being fiscally irresponsible, of creating high unemployment and risking another financial crisis. President Obama will campaign on his concern for all Americans, especially the middle class, pensioners and the disadvantaged, particularly in education.

In other words, it will be a campaign of class warfare, with negative advertising on both sides.

If Barack Obama has been able to get out the middle class and the African American and Hispanic vote, and his bold move to endorse same-sex marriage works – an idea anathema to the Romney-Ryan campaign – then he will be re-elected President of the United States on November 6. Ironically, Vice-President Joe Biden, who hardly ever gets a mention these days, proving Marshall and Garner’s claims, forced the President to move earlier than he planned on the same sex issue, after saying on NBC’s Meet the Press he was “absolutely comfortable” with gays and lesbians marrying.

Meanwhile, the two rich white guys with rich friends will raise more funds than Obama and will spend much of that money on negative ads that will question everything from the President’s US citizenship to allegations he faked his college records (the latter published on the Drudge Report by Wayne Allyn Root, a Libertarian and self-confessed “gun-slinging, riverboat gambling entrepreneur and capitalist evangelist.”)

And with the Republican and Democratic National Conventions coming up in the next few weeks, and Labor Day on the first Monday in September marking the beginning of the “real” election campaign, the battle between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is about to get very interesting.


PS As a follow up to my blog on the Kennedy Awards on Excellence in NSW Journalism, I just wanted to add that the gala ceremony last Friday night at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney was a resounding success. The awards, across 30 categories, went to many journalists who would normally never receive prizes for excellence. The ceremony was hosted superbly by Ellen Fanning of The Global Mail, and produced and organised by Adam Walters of the Seven Network and a small band of passionate volunteers.

Among my favourites were: The Paul Lockyer Award for Outstanding Regional Reporting, The Daily Advertiser, Wagga; The Sean Flannery Award for Outstanding Radio Reporting, Catherine Clifford, ABC Tamworth; The Cliff Neville Award for Outstanding Team Player, James Hamilton, Today Tonight, Seven Network; The Les Kennedy Award for Outstanding Mentor, Claudia Taranto, ABC; The Gary Ticehurst Award for Outstanding Television Camera Coverage, Paul “Bowie” Boustead, Nine Network; Outstanding Coverage of Indigenous Affairs, sponsored by Coles, Caro Meldrum-Hanna, ABC 7.30; The Peter Ruehl Award for Most Outstanding Columnist, Heath Aston, The Sun-Herald; Most Outstanding Blog, Wes Hardman, ninemsn; and the P&O Cruises NSW Journalist of the Year, Kate McClymont, The Sydney Morning Herald, who also won the Scoop of the Year and Most Outstanding Investigative Reporting awards.

The video tributes honouring five great journalists and one legendary cameraman — Les Kennedy, Paul Lockyer, Sean Flannery, Cliff Neville, Peter Ruehl and Gary Ticehurst — were also highlights of the evening, along with speeches by Phil Cornford, Allan Hogan, David Wilson, Steve Barrett, Simon Bouda, Peter Kogoy, the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, and the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione. Eileen Perkins, widow of Charlie Perkins, and Tom Calma, AO, introduced a video detailing the achievements of the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children and Students. The gala evening raised funds for the Trust to sponsor scholarships for indigenous students, including aspiring journalists.

For me, the major highlight was having at least one family member on stage as the winner of the award named after their loved one was announced: Paul Lockyer’s widow, Maria, and his sons, Nick and Jamie; Theresa Ticehurst, Gary’s widow; Mercedes Ruehl, Peter’s daughter, Jocelyn Dent, Cliff Neville’s partner, and his nephew Mark, from Detroit; Sean Flannery’s son, John; and Les Kennedy’s son, Marcus.

It was a night that made me feel proud to be a journalist.

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