Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, looks on as vice presidential running mate Paul Ryan, speaks during a campaign rally on Mon., Aug. 20, 2012 in Manchester N.H. (AP Photo)
There are many ways in which Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate can be called radical. Ryan, for instance, has a radical economic vision, one that calls for turning Medicare into a voucher program, slashing tax rates for the wealthiest Americans and making up for the lost revenue with severe cuts in all non-defense spending. He also has a radical agenda when it comes to women’s health, one that includes abolishing a woman’s right not just to abortion, but to various forms of contraception and in vitro fertilization.
But if the Bush years taught us anything, it’s that most Americans don’t pay much attention to policy or its moral consequences. They’re more concerned with the shiny surfaces of American politics than the dank depths.
And it is in this arena that Mitt Romney ‒ for all his dithering and flopping and gaffing elsewhere ‒ has proved most radical of all. In teaming up with Ryan, he has forged the hottest presidential ticket in American history.
Meaning: the best looking.
Should this matter to voters?
Does it matter to them?
In terms of pulchritude, presidents have traditionally fallen into a few basic categories: Bearded Grizzlies (Hayes, Harrison, Grant, Garfield), Distinguished Fatties (Taft, Cleveland, McKinley), Geeks with Glasses (Wilson, Truman), Grumpy Baldies (Hoover, Eisenhower, Quincy Adams).
But a quick inspection of the recent archives reveals overwhelming evidence that American presidents are becoming hotter and hotter. The gold standard, obviously, is John F. Kennedy. But Ronald Reagan was a matinee idol, and both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama rank as what the Internet wags call a PILF (President I’d Like to F***). And who can forget Sarah Palin, a vice-presidential candidate who was actually hotter than either of the actresses who portrayed her onscreen?
What marks Romney/Ryan as so unique is the combined stud quotient. It would be sort of like if George Clooney chose a young Paul Newman to be his running mate.
To be honest, I have trouble concentrating when either man gives a speech. And I’m an avowed socialist and heterosexual. Instead, I tend to mute the television and stare into each man’s eyes, which are conveniently blank. And how I covet their hair! Those thick, shiny manes, impervious to the ravages of aging, and gleaming with product.
I will attempt to show some restraint when it comes to discussing the candidates’ physiques. But let me just say that I know I’m not alone in hoping for a wet T-shirt contest as a potential adjunct to the debates. Ryan, as the world now knows, has one of those sinewy physiques honed by early morning workouts.
But don’t let Mitt Romney’s age fool you. There aren’t a whole lot of 65-year-old grandfathers who would choose to dress in a wetsuit in the first place, let alone to peel it down for a candid family pic.
This is what makes the choice of Ryan so bold, in my view. After all, the square-jawed Romney has spent his entire adult life as the most handsome man in any given room, usually by a factor of two.
In choosing a majordomo, he could have played it safe with dweebs like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman. These were guys with enough experience in government to reassure voters nervous about Romney’s bona fides. In other words, he could have pulled an Obama and chosen a Biden: the ugly-but-safe choice.
Instead, he opted for an aesthetic game changer, a guy who could put a sexy spin on the boring old GOP mission of hacking the safety net to bits and enriching the richest Americans. Never mind that Ryan, in a dozen years in Congress, has passed all of two bills (one of them to rename a post office in his district). Never mind that at 42, he’s the second youngest vice-presidential candidate in history, just a year older than one James Danforth Quayle. What matters in this media ecosystem of vanity and stimulation is locating a man of the People magazine, not of the people.
Mission accomplished, Willard.
The ethics of your policies may turn my stomach. But I’m not afraid to admit that your veep selection has turned my head.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.