Of course Joe Biden laughed at Paul Ryan. Dour curmudgeons who haven’t smiled since Barney Miller went off the air laughed at Paul Ryan. Though Republicans tried to make Biden’s barely controlled mirth an issue—how dare he laugh at Ayn Rand’s prettiest godchild?—the idea that you could keep a straight face during the vice-presidential debate when Paul Ryan opened his mouth was, well, malarkey.
The schedule of the presidential debate again conflicts with the deadline of our esteemed print edition, so we may seem to be backtracking with a mention of last week’s forensics fun. However, it’s worth remembering that, for those in the GOP who play the long con, this year’s campaign is less about Romney than Ryan.
It’s no accident that the young Wisconsinite wound up on the ticket this year, despite having comparatively little experience in doing the things a vice president might be called upon to do. Ryan’s extremism, both social and economic, is exactly what the angry white core of the current Republican reactor hopes will fuel the survival of the party.
The Republican Party’s most fervent supporters tend to be in the higher age brackets. Actuarial tables are bad news for GOP long-term prospects. The party needs a Young White Hope to keep the embers of Reaganism flickering and its corporate funding rolling in. Ryan fills the bill by being perceived as a serious thinker who also craves the burn from his P90X workout.
We can’t fault his workout ethic, because we’ve seen the photos (though the ones in Time, in which he’s wearing his ball cap backwards, give him the gravitas of Kid Rock), but if he can’t tell the truth about his marathon times or his body fat percentage, how serious a thinker can he be?
Say what you will about couch potato Joe Biden, he was ready and able to deconstruct the fantasy arithmetic with which Paul Ryan has built his, and by association, Mitt Romney’s, game plan for the nation’s economy. Even Chris Wallace of Fox News admits the numbers are questionable, and the ticket’s insistence that no details on the GOP tax plan will be released until the Romney inauguration doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the plan’s efficacy.
With the vice presidential debate concluded, the spotlight has shifted once more to the top of the tickets, and Paul Ryan is second-tier material again until the night of November 6, when we’ll find out which election he’s won. You see, he’s so all-in for Mitt Romney that he decided to also run for re-election to his Wisconsin congressional seat, thus improving the chances that we’ll still have Paul Ryan to kick around November 7.
There’s another congressman we’ve kicked around for a while who merits being kicked to the curb next month, and that’s the Sixth District’s Spencer Bachus.
Ol’ Spence is a walking tribute to the power of incumbency, having finagled ten terms in Congress with a resume thinner than a Lifetime movie plot. Taking a cue from his mentor, William McKinley, Bachus has traditionally run low-key (or even no-key) campaigns, trusting the incuriosity of the public to ensure his return to Washington.
In 2012, Spencer has encountered two things he rarely experiences: publicity and opposition. The former resulted from PR fallout after his unexpected spotlight dance on 60 Minutes in 2011. If you recall, Bachus, as a member of the House Financial Services Committee, was privy to secret briefings from the Secretary of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board prior to the 2008 financial system meltdown. What was hinky was Spencer’s apparent use of the information he received. According to allegations on 60 Minutes and stories in the Wall Street Journal, after these briefings, Spencer bought option funds whose value would rise as the market fell.
Spencer denied any wrongdoing, but he wound up having to defend the appearance of insider trading to the Office of Congressional Ethics (incidentally running up a quarter-million dollar legal tab that AL.com reported was paid out of campaign funds), which eventually dismissed allegations against him.
The opposition came earlier this year, when righter-wing state Republicans decided they wanted one of their own in the Sixth District seat, offering up State Senator Scott Beason to run against Bachus in the primary. Luckily for Spencer, there were two other candidates to split the anti-Bachus vote, which not even a barrage of TV ads from something called the Campaign for Primary Accountability was able to galvanize.
What helped Spencer win was money, plenty of it, from all corners of the financial industry, for which he’s performed a number of services as chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. The watchdog group Public Citizen listed the Credit Suisse Group, the Mortgage Bankers Association, the National Association of Realtors and JP Morgan Chase among his top 20 contributors. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Bachus campaign, as of June 30, had pulled in over $2.3 million, 94% of which came from large contributions and from PACs.
There is an alternative to Spencer Bachus on the ballot next month. According to CRP, she’s raised but $24,000 to run for Congress. That’s right, she: Penny Bailey.
Penny Bailey is an experienced public servant, a retired Air Force colonel with 24 years of service and a husband on his third deployment in the Middle East. One of Spencer’s constituents from Leeds, she realized that Bachus wasn’t doing much for working people who have taken a beating in the Sixth District. “We just believe in representative government,” she told the Wall Street Journal, “and we don’t believe we are getting that now.”
Sure, it’s a long shot. Penny Bailey doesn’t have name recognition or fancy TV ads or a bottomless campaign fund. She does have one hugely important attribute that should win her support from smart voters all over the Sixth District: she’s not Spencer Bachus.