The XX Factor

Paul Ryan v. Sarah Palin

NORFOLK, VA - AUGUST 11: Mitt Romney (L) jokes with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) after announcing him as the “next PRESIDENT of the United States” this morning. Oops.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Four years ago, when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, it was electrifying and flabbergasting. Who is she? And Wow, she sure is better on TV and hotter than he is, are the  reactions I remember having. The adjectives of choice were bold and nuts, previewing a long debate about whether the choice was brilliant or suicidal.

As John Dickerson points out, Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan is  an “injection” with the power to re-launch the Romney brand. John argues that unlike Palin, Ryan for V.P. “is a re-branding that is mostly consistent with Romney’s general approach.” (Except for that bit about how he was dead set on choosing someone with executive experience.) I guess so, in the sense that Romney has already endorsed Ryan’s roadmap and his budget plan. But elevating Ryan to V.P. of course puts his slash away ideas about government at the campaign’s very center. The reason it’s a counterintuitive choice is that it forces Romney into the specifics he’s been eager to avoid, because specifics are painful. Even when delivered by a cute young thing with bright blue eyes. (Have I mentioned that David Plotz constantly tells me that Paul Ryan bears a resemblance to my husband?) He sure is boyish.

Of course, Ryan’s deep grip of the specifics is not at all Palin-like. No one will be worrying about whether he knows how far away Russia is, even though he has no foreign policy experience, or can handling the prep for his debate with Joe Biden. Come to think of it, odds are that he will ice Biden, right? Say what you will about Palin as a candidate, though, she did launch the Mama Grizzly alternative to feminism that brought women flocking to the Tea Party. It mattered for women that John McCain chose a woman. In this election, Obama has an edge with women (especially single women) who tipped to the GOP for the first time in the Congressional elections of 2010. This week on a college campus in Denver, Obama was introduced by Sandra Fluke, famously smeared by Rush Limbaugh for demanding contraception coverage. The president accused the Republicans of trying to take women’s healthcare back to the 1950s. In my inbox this morning is a four-star endorsement of Paul Ryan from Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, and an increasingly important leader of the anti-abortion movement. Yoest hails him as “an unambiguous defender of the need for a pro-life vision for America.” So on reproductive rights as well as the budget and taxes, does Ryan supply the vision where Romney lacks it?