VP nominee Ryan a saving grace?

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James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
James M. Berklan, McKnight's Editor
Now that the Olympics are over, let politics take center stage again. Clearly, no one is interested in winning the silver medal when it comes to running the race for U.S. president. But interest in second bananas is high.

With Mitt Romney's announcement of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate over the weekend, long-term care providers might find they have some wrenching decisions to make.

If healthcare reform is to your professional liking, can you vote for the guy who has led perhaps the loudest Congressional charge to upend it? How about voting for the man who would essentially do away with current Medicaid payments and change the Medicare payment system (if not lead to their demise, as some Democrats and other critics assert)? Or maybe you can't run fast enough to the voting booth now?

This, of course is all just ponderings. Ryan's push toward privatizing parts of Medicare would stand little hope with a split Congress. That's a likely outcome come mid-November, regardless of who wins the White House. Besides, vice president is still just the caddy to the president, as well as the White House chief of staff and many, many others.

What the choice of Ryan does mean, however, is that it's clear Romney will make the economy, if not healthcare outright, the cornerstone of his campaign. As well he should. “It's the economy, stupid,” famously elected one president in recent memory, and it's liable to do it again, many more times.

In choosing Ryan, Romney and his handlers have proved they learned from past GOP mistakes. Ryan pulls far more conservatively than his partner at the top of the ticket (much like J. Danforth Quayle did for his pairing with George H.W. Bush). But he scores much higher on the scales of, well, intelligence and charisma.

And dare we mention John McCain's desperate choice of Sarah Palin four years ago? Ryan already has waged high-profile political battles on a national stage, hails from a fairly populous state in the heart of America — and by some accounting, might even edge the Woman Who Could See Russia From Her Backyard in the good looks department.

What Romney has in Ryan is an ideologue to play to the right, a fund-raiser who can energize donors to open their bank vaults and, yes, youthful energy. An antidote to a now-gray haired, slowing basketballer?

Yet this presidential race is not going to come down to vice presidential candidates. It never does. They are just secondary factors. Vice presidential runs are not so critical, except maybe for the individual's own political future. Anybody hear from Quayle on a national stage lately? And just who were Bob Dole's and John Kerry's running mates again? [For the record: the staid Jack Kemp and the disgraced John Edwards.]

It's all about the campaign at this stage. The economy is the barometer and this time Mr. Obama has to do more than sell hope and take advantage of the embarrassing implosion of a Republican predecessor. He also has an economic record to defend. If he does well there, it doesn't matter what Romney does, or if Romney's running mate were named Jack Ryan, Buddy Ryan or Private Ryan.

Just win, baby, is how the football icon Al Davis put it. It's hard to argue that Romney isn't in a better position to do so now, compared to a week ago.

It's just going to be interesting to see if Ryan gets a guest spot on Saturday Night Live this fall — surely, he will — and have some cast member gush, “You know, you're way hotter in person than you are on TV!”

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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