George F. Will / Romney's veep: substance first

He should choose a heavy hitter such as Paul Ryan or Bobby Jindal


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President Barack Obama's intellectual sociopathy -- his often breezy and sometimes loutish indifference to truth -- should no longer startle. It should, however, influence Mitt Romney's choice of a running mate.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Mr. Obama flagrantly misrepresented the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which did not "open the floodgates" for foreign corporations "to spend without limit in our elections" (the law prohibiting foreign money was untouched by Citizens United) and did not reverse "a century of law." Although Mr. Obama is not nearly as well educated as many thought, and he thinks, he surely knows he was absurd when he said last Monday, regarding Obamacare, that it would be "unprecedented" for the Supreme Court to overturn a "passed law."

More important, and particularly pertinent to Mr. Romney's choice, was Mr. Obama's Tuesday speech comprehensively misrepresenting Rep. Paul Ryan's budget. (For Mr. Ryan's refutation of Mr. Obama, go to http://ow.ly/a6hPz.)

Remarkably, the 42-year-old congressman is today's agenda-setting Republican. Admirably, Mr. Romney has embraced Mr. Ryan's approach to altering the ruinous trajectory of the entitlement state and forestalling what that trajectory presages, a "government-centered society" (Mr. Romney's phrase in his fine Milwaukee speech Tuesday night).

Mr. Obama's defense of reactionary liberalism -- whatever is must ever be, only increased -- is not weighed down by the ballast of scruples. His defense will be his campaign because he cannot forever distract the nation and mesmerize the media with such horrors as a 30-year-old law student being unable to make someone else pay for her contraception.

So Mr. Romney's running mate should have intellectual firepower, born of immersion in policy complexities, sufficient to refute Mr. Obama's meretricious claims and derelictions of duty. Here are two excellent choices:

Mr. Ryan already is at the center of the campaign, and is the world's foremost expert on the Ryan-Romney plan. No one is more marinated in the facts to which Mr. Obama is averse. Mr. Ryan has not yet honed his rhetorical skills for communicating complexities to laypersons, but he is a quick study. One drawback is that he is invaluable as chairman of the Budget Committee and in 2015 might become chairman of Ways and Means.

Louisiana's Gov. Bobby Jindal, 40, was a 20-year-old congressional staffer when he authored a substantial report on reforming Medicare financing. At 24, he became head of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, with 12,000 employees and 40 percent of the state budget.

Back in Washington at 26, he was executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. In 1999, he became president of Louisiana's state university system, which has 80,000 students. In 2001, he served as an assistant secretary of health and human services. He became governor after three years in Congress.

Faux realists will belabor Mr. Romney with unhistorical cleverness, urging him to choose a running mate who supposedly will sway this or that demographic cohort or carry a particular state.

But are, for example, Hispanics nationwide such a homogeneous cohort that, say, those who came to Colorado from Mexico will identify with a son of Cuban immigrants to Florida (Sen. Marco Rubio)? Do these realists know that, according to exit polls, Nevada's Hispanic Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, won only about a third of the Hispanic vote in 2010?

Furthermore, in the 16 elections since World War II, 10 presidential candidates have failed to carry the home state of their vice presidential running mates. Gov. Earl Warren could not carry California for Tom Dewey in 1948; Sen. Estes Kefauver could not carry Tennessee for Adlai Stevenson in 1956; former Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge could not carry Massachusetts for Richard Nixon in 1960; Rep. Bill Miller could not carry New York for Barry Goldwater in 1964; Gov. Spiro Agnew could not carry Maryland for Nixon in 1968; Sargent Shriver could not carry Maryland for George McGovern in 1972; Rep. Geraldine Ferraro could not carry New York (or women, or even her congressional district) for Walter Mondale in 1984; Sen. Lloyd Bentsen could not carry Texas for Michael Dukakis in 1988; Jack Kemp could not carry New York for Bob Dole in 1996; Sen. John Edwards could not carry North Carolina for John Kerry in 2004.

For the next decade, American politics will turn on this truth: Slowing the growth of the entitlement state is absolutely necessary and intensely unpopular.

In this situation, which is ripe for a demagogue such as the Huey Long from Chicago's Hyde Park, Mr. Romney's choice of running mate should promise something Washington now lacks -- adult supervision.

opinion_commentary

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post (georgewill@washpost.com).


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