Is Paul Ryan Gen-Xers’ only hope?

posted at 1:11 pm on August 16, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

So says Kirsten Powers in the Daily Beast.  Forget Republicans and Democrats, the center-left commentator writes — this election is about Baby Boomers vs everyone else in America.  Mitt Romney has chosen the first major-ticket representative of what Powers calls The Screwed Generation, and Ryan may be their last hope to keep from falling into economic servitude to the Boomers for life:

Unfortunately, the future looks as bleak for today’s young people. No amount of coddling by their well-provided-for Boomer parents can save Generation Y and the Millennials from the dire economic conditions they face, including criminal levels of educational debt. Pensions have gone the way of the horse and buggy. You want to retire with health-care benefits, as both my professor parents did? Good luck. As the 1994 movie turned Gen-X mantra has it: Reality Bites.

Generation X chronicler Jeff Gordiner, has written that Gen-Xers suffer from “athazagoraphobia”—“an abnormal and persistent fear of being forgotten or ignored.” Except it’s not really a phobia; it’s been reality for a long time. Maybe that is about to change.

Enter Ryan. While Democrats attack his Medicare plan as “radical” and portray him as pushing granny off the cliff, young people don’t seem to be buying this caricature. Or maybe “radical” is what they want. …

Jon Cowan, the CEO of the centrist think tank Third Way told me, “Ryan is doing the country a huge service by putting this on the table.” Cowan is the former founder of Lead or Leave, a Gen X group that gained prominence in the 1990s as it rang the alarm bells for reducing the deficit and dealing with entitlements. He doesn’t believe Ryan’s plan is the best way to reform Medicare, though he concedes that it is a serious plan. He cautions that Democrats may find themselves in political peril in the next 10 years if they don’t come up with a substantive alternative plan. He says, “There are a lot of younger voters who say of the Ryan plan, ‘at least I get something… at least there is a plan’. If you don’t get in there and offer a plan you give up the high ground on policy.”

Yes, our expectations for government benefits when we retire have been lowered so much that the idea that we would get anything at all seems like a bonanza. Ryan’s plan also seems a lot less scary when you consider that his partner on it is the liberal Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

It’s not just Zogby’s numbers that back Powers’ argument.  Survey USA polled registered voters in Florida, where Ryan’s addition to the ticket supposedly spelled doom for Romney in a state heavy with current retirees.  Surprisingly, Ryan polled best among seniors — and almost as good with voters under 35.  On the key question of whether Ryan made voters more or less likely to vote for Mitt Romney, Ryan was a +15 overall at 57/42 among those whose minds were changed at all.  Among seniors, it’s a +28 (64/36), but among those under 35, it’s +28 at 62/36, and this demographic had the highest percentage of mind-changing by far at 30% (14% of seniors changed their mind with the Ryan pick).  That’s a direct challenge to Obama’s base of voter enthusiasm.

That’s why I write today in my column for The Fiscal Times that Romney’s gamble on Ryan is already paying off, both in polling and in the direction of the debate:

 Romney took a big gamble with Ryan in two ways – in betting that Obama wouldn’t take the challenge for a substantive debate, and that voters will know the difference.  A few days later, it’s clear that Romney won the first bet, and is at least ahead on the second. …

That still left the risk that Obama would take the gauntlet flung down by Romney’s selection of Ryan and go toe-to-toe with Romney in a debate between supply-side and populist economics.  In times of economic hardship, populism sells, as politicians well know, mainly because of its simplistic division of haves and have-nots as the basis for redistributive policies.  As the Associated Press acknowledged yesterday (and many of us have argued since the first Recovery Summer in 2010), we have the worst post-World War II economic recovery in US history in nearly every category, which means that the populist One Percenter populism which Obama has fed since last year might still have life left within it.

That risk still exists, but at least from the way Obama and Joe Biden have reacted to Ryan’s appointment, it has faded considerably.  Has Team Obama taken up the gauntlet and offered a rebuttal to Romney’s view of government?  Hardly.  On Tuesday of this week, ABC’s Jake Tapper reported from three separate events [note: now four times — Ed] that the President of the United States was reduced to talking about Seamus The Roof Riding Dog, a story dug up from a 1983 Romney family vacation, as an argument for his re-election.  The super-PAC run by his former White House media staffer “accidentally” had its controversial ad run in Ohio, which strongly implied that Romney caused the cancer-related death of a laid-off steelworker’s spouse.

That was hardly the worst of it, though.  On the same day, the Vice President spoke to a crowd in Danville, Virginia about Romney’s plan to unleash Wall Street from all regulation.  Speaking to a crowd with a significant number of African-American voters, Biden slipped into a Southern cant to warn them that “they goin’ to put y’all back in chains.”  When confronted about Biden’s race-baiting, the Obama campaign refused to apologize, claiming that the Romney campaign took the remark out of context.

Clearly, the incumbents have no desire to engage Romney and Ryan in a serious debate.  Romney’s big all-in raise with Ryan has now made that crystal clear.

Actually, in my column I explain why shifting to a larger scope of the structure of the federal budget, entitlements, and staggering unfunded liabilities wasn’t really that big of a gamble — and how sticking to just jobs and the economy may have been a bigger risk.  Be sure to read the whole thing.

This race is far from over.  However, the disarray in Team Obama to Ryan’s entry into the race makes it clear that Romney has won the first round in this high-stakes move, and it may keep paying dividends all the way to the election.

Update: Gary Gross has more thoughts on KP’s essay.  And thanks to Jack Fowler for linking my column at The Corner with some kind words about my argument why it wasn’t all that much of a gamble.


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