Gail Collins / A case of mistaken identity

A guide for voters seeking to tell Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan apart

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Let's see if we can clear up a few things.

First, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney are not the same person. They aren't even related! Stop spreading rumors! Although they sort of look alike and enjoy spending time together. Perhaps Mitt regards Paul as the sixth son he never had.

Mr. Ryan is the one who lives on the same block where he grew up. Mr. Romney is the one who lives in four different states.

Mr. Ryan is the one who spent his youth cooking hamburgers at McDonald's. Mr. Romney is the one who used to enjoy dressing up as a police officer and playing fun pranks on his prep school friends. Neither one of them worked as a Wienermobile driver. Really, I don't know where you get this stuff.

Mr. Ryan is the one who likes to catch catfish by sticking his fist into their burrows and dragging them out by the throat. Mr. Romney is the one who drove to Canada with his dog strapped to the car roof.

When it comes to the issues, both men are on the same page. Although the page does keep turning, and you have to wonder how average voters can cope with all of the confusion.

Fortunately, polls suggest average voters have already decided who they're going to support and have no need whatsoever to try to figure out which page the Romney-Ryan campaign is on.

Practically the only person in America who claims to have no idea who he's going to vote for is Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., who recently declared himself absolutely and totally undecided. People, do you think it's possible that the entire presidential campaign is now being waged just for the benefit of Joseph Lieberman? On the one hand, that's a real waste of about $1 billion. On the other, it's exactly what Joseph Lieberman has been waiting for all his life.

Anyhow, about the issues:

Mr. Ryan is the one who requested stimulus money for his district, but he is sorry. The stimulus was a terrible thing, and Mr. Ryan had no intention of trying to glom onto a chunk of it. He thought he was just forwarding a constituent request for some ... constituent thing. Or four.

Mr. Romney is the one who hired undocumented workers to do his lawn. Totally by mistake.

Mr. Ryan is the one who voted for a massive prescription drug Medicare entitlement, the Bush tax cuts and two wars without paying for any of them. He is sorrier about this than the stimulus.

Mr. Romney is the one who passed Obamacare before Barack Obama. But it wasn't the same thing at all because it happened in a state.

Both men want more big tax cuts that will be paid for by closing tax loopholes. They are in total, complete concurrence that the identity of these loopholes is not an appropriate topic for a presidential campaign.

Mr. Ryan is supposed to be the Tea Party hero and Mr. Romney is the one they hated so much they were actually willing to contemplate a Newt Gingrich presidency to avoid him.

But I'm not entirely sure we can trust the hard right to know what it wants any more. Last week in Florida, a Republican primary uprising knocked out Cliff Stearns, a superconservative veteran congressman who had campaigned on his efforts to kill off federal funds for Planned Parenthood and embarrass the Obama administration with an investigation into the Solyndra loans. That sort of bragging enraged the faithful by reminding them that Stearns was a Washington insider, and he lost to a newcomer named Ted Yoho.

Maybe Tea Party voters now only want to send people to Washington who will lack the capacity to get anything done. Personally, I'm kind of OK with that. Also, I like the idea of having a congressman named Ted Yoho, as well as the fact that Mr. Yoho describes himself as a "large animal veterinarian." We don't have many veterinarians in Congress, and you never can tell when a visiting heifer will come down with a medical problem.

All right, a little more about the issues.

Mr. Romney has a plan to make Medicare solvent forever. We know this because he wrote "Solvent" on the board at a press conference the other day.

Mr. Ryan used to have a plan to make Medicare solvent forever by taking it away from everybody under age 55 and giving them health insurance vouchers instead. But that was so 2011.

Now, Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney are on the same page when it comes to Medicare, which is that it must be saved from the $716 billion in cuts Mr. Obama wants to make over the next 10 years. Although the same $716 billion was in the budget plan that Mr. Ryan got the House to pass this year. But it's not like he expected it to happen. "We would never have done it," he told campaign reporters, desperate wretches condemned to roam the Earth with calculators, endlessly searching for the Ryan-Romney page.


Gail Collins is a syndicated columnist for The New York Times.


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