Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Credit: Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore.

In 2008 progressives and leftists swarmed to support Obama even though his program came down to platitudes like “Change.” After Obama became president and ignored the opportunity to lead the country in a new direction, leftists insisted that it was necessary to continue to support him. Now leftists are exploding with joy at Romney’s supposed mistake in choosing the easily attacked Ryan as his running mate. Perhaps leftists might reconsider their own credibility as political analysts in evaluating the Republican strategy.

Let us begin with the obvious. Obama cannot run on his record, since it is a record of failure. Therefore, he was always going to run a scare campaign, explaining how bad the Republicans are. In choosing Ryan, Romney has not made this easier for Obama — it was always easy. Rather, he showed that he is not afraid of Obama’s scare tactics, and of the Democrat’s ad hominem attacks on him — rich, unfeeling, out of touch, and all the rest.

Also obvious is that the choice allows Romney to unify his party and fire up his base. Progressives continue to regard Obama as a political genius, even as they reject his programs. But the first rule of American politics is to be true to your base before reaching out. Obama treated his base with contempt, even as he woos them now. But we all know that while we gave money, time, and energy in 2008, few of us are going to do that again, even if we vote for Obama. By contrast, Romney now has a unified base.

But the most important reason that Romney’s choice is inspired is much larger than either of these. The U.S. is in a long-term crisis, generally termed “decline.” This was obvious during the Bush Presidency, even before the economic downturn that began in 2007. It was the sense of crisis that created the Obama wave. Obama, however, has never recognized and spoke to the nature of this crisis. On the contrary, from the time of his election on he has repeated the same words that Hoover repeated after the Great Depression unfolded in 1929: “we will recover.” His policy now is “stay the course,” “Let us finish what we have begun.” That is a losing position. Romney, by contrast, in choosing Ryan, can say that he is boldly and directly addressing the crisis and has a way out, namely the budget. This is powerful; it speaks to the deeply held optimism termed “American exceptionalism.” It may well not be enough to win, but that it was an inspired move cannot be denied.

Eli Zaretsky is the author of Why America Needs a Left: An Historical Argument

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