POLITICS

Why it’ll be hard for liberals to portray Paul Ryan as a radical

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein

During the 2008 election, conservatives tried their darnedest to convince the American public that Barack Obama was radical. They pointed to his work as a Saul Alinsky-inspired community organizer; his background in Chicago politics; his associations with the likes of Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi and Jeremiah Wright; his liberal policy positions; and the fact that his voting record was rated the most liberal in the Senate by National Journal. In the end, their efforts failed. Many conservatives like to pin the blame on a complicit media or a weak-kneed McCain campaign. The honest truth, though, is that a big reason why the American public didn’t perceive Obama as a radical was that he didn’t come across that way. Whenever he spoke, gave interviews, or debated, he was calm and reasonable sounding. He wasn’t a wild-eyed. He didn’t use extremist language. So, conservative warnings about him often fell on deaf ears. I suspect that liberals will run into similar problems if they think they’re going to convince people that Paul Ryan is a radical.

Everybody should remember that Ryan doesn’t come from some sort of deeply conservative area, but a moderate district in the Midwest. C00k Political Report has ranked the district 218th in its partisan voting index out of 435 Congressional districts — in other words, it is right smack in the middle. Ryan been running on entitlement reform since 1998 and has been consistently attacked for wanting to destroy Medicare and Social Security, yet he’s won comfortably seven times. In 2008, his district went for Obama 51 percent to 48 percent, yet Ryan beat his Democratic challenger by 29 points (64 percent to 35 percent).

Much like Obama in 2008, Ryan comes across as reasonable, thoughtful and earnest. He’s heard all of the attacks on his budget proposal and has become deft at fending them off. Democrats can spend all the time they want attempting to define him as an anti-woman, granny tossing firebrand. But the actual Paul Ryan that Americans will see in speeches, interviews and the vice presidential debate will be a stark contrast.

People believe it if you tell them that Pat Buchanan, with his controversial statements and karate chopping speaking style, is an extremist. Same for the bombastic former Democratic congressman Alan Grayson. But I’d guess that most Americans, once exposed to Ryan, will find him likable and non-threatening.

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