Thursday, October 11, 2012


Posted by Jeffrey Toobin
October 11, 2012

After the arguments in the Supreme Court yesterday, it’s unclear whether there is a legal problem with the affirmative-action admissions program at the University of Texas. Regardless of how the case turns out, though, it is clear that there is a political problem with contemporary affirmative action.

The flagship U.T. campus in Austin admits students in two ways. First, students at the top of their high-school class—usually the top ten per cent—are admitted automatically. Second, some students are admitted under a “holistic” analysis of all of their qualifications, including their race. Abigail Fisher, a white woman who was rejected for admission, sued, claiming that the consideration of the race of minority applicants amounted to discrimination against her.

Nine years ago, in the case of Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s opinion upheld a similar admissions program at the University of Michigan Law School. Even then, her ruling expressed palpable discomfort with any sort of racial preference; she said racial considerations should be allowed on campuses for no more than the next twenty-five years. But less than a decade later, her successors on the Court may be on the way to limiting, or overruling, her opinion.

Supporters of affirmative action are now reduced to talking about how little these programs do, not how much. As Justice Stephen Breyer said at the argument, “There is no quota. It is individualized. It is time limited. It was adopted after the consideration of race-neutral means. Each applicant receives individual consideration, and race did not become the predominant factor.” At the daily White House news briefing, Jay Carney gave a similarly grudging endorsement of the practice: “I think you know the President’s position on affirmative action. As the Supreme Court has recognized in the past, diversity in the classroom has learning benefits for students, campuses, and schools. President Obama has said that while he opposes quotas and thinks an emphasis on universal and not race-specific programs is good policy, considering race along with other factors can be appropriate in certain circumstances.”

In light of this chronic defensiveness on the part of affirmative action supporters, it’s no surprise that conservatives are emboldened. Justice Antonin Scalia focussed on the vexing question of who is, in fact, a minority: “Did they require everybody to check a box or they have somebody figure out, Oh, this person looks one-thirty-second Hispanic and that’s enough?” (The lawyer defending the program said that the university relied on the students to define their own ethnicity.) In the same vein, Samuel Alito wondered about the accuracy of the categories: “How do you justify lumping together all Asian-Americans? Do you have a critical mass of Filipino Americans? Cambodian Americans?” O’Connor’s decision said that universities could seek a “critical mass” of minority students. “What is that number?” Chief Justice John Roberts wanted to know. “What is the critical mass of African Americans and Hispanics at the university that you are working toward?” (The lawyer said there was no specific number.)

Alito raised the difficult issue of race and class, which is actually a happy consequence of the development of a sizable upper-middle-class minority community. (This might be called the Sasha and Malia problem.) “If you have a [minority] applicant whose parents… put them in the top one per cent of earners in the country and both have graduate degrees, they deserve a leg up against, let’s say, an Asian or a white applicant whose parents are absolutely average in terms of education and income?” Not really, said Gregory Garre, the lawyer for the university, adding, “we want minorities from different backgrounds. We go out of our way to recruit minorities from disadvantaged backgrounds.”

Garre and the liberal justices tried so hard to say what the affirmative-action program was not that it became hard to understand what it was. At one point, Donald Verrilli, the Solicitor General, who was defending the Texas plan on behalf of the Obama Administration, said that race did not function as a tiebreaker in admissions decisions. “I don’t understand this argument,” Justice Anthony Kennedy responded, “I thought that the whole point is that sometimes race has to be a tiebreaker and you are saying that it isn’t. Well, then, we should just go away. Then we should just say you can’t use race, don’t worry about it.”

“I don’t think it’s a tiebreaker,” Verrilli tried again in response, “I think it functions more subtly than that, Justice Kennedy.”

Subtle indeed, apparently. It may be that, after the Court decides the Texas case, affirmative action will survive in some form or another. But it speaks to the perilous state of public support for affirmative action that its supporters in the Supreme Court could scarcely articulate what it did and why it mattered—while the opponents of the policy spoke with clarity. Policies survive when their benefits are clear—and that wasn’t the case for affirmative action on Wednesday at the Supreme Court.

Photograph of Abigail Fisher by Susan Walsh/AP.

Death of Qassim M. Aklan

Press Statement

Victoria Nuland

Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
October 11, 2012

e on faceboohare on google_plusone

We are deeply saddened by the killing of Qassim M. Aklan, a longtime employee of the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a. We condemn this vicious act in the strongest terms possible and extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time. Mr. Aklan, a Yemeni citizen, worked as a Foreign Service National Investigator at the Embassy for the last 11 years. He was a dedicated professional who will be greatly missed. We are coordinating closely with the Yemeni authorities to investigate this attack and to help bring those responsible to justice.

Tonights Debate

Vice President Joe Biden, left, at the White House on April 12, 2011; Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan in Washington on April 5, 2011

Biden vs. Ryan: What to Watch for in the Debate

Generally speaking, it takes a political junkie to get excited about a vice-presidential debate. Sure, showdowns between candidates can be interesting, and occasionally they become truly significant after the fact if some defining moment — “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” — ricochets around the media. But if anyone can find a voter who changes his or her mind based on which No. 2 argued better, make that person an exhibit at the Smithsonian.
That said, in Danville, Ky., on Thursday night, Joe Biden will participate in the second vice-presidential debate in a row to draw an unusual amount of interest. Four years ago, the ratings for Biden’s showdown with Sarah Palin were higher than those for any of the presidential debates. (The night is perhaps best remembered for Palin’s repeated winks at the camera.) This time, interest is running higher than normal thanks to the sense that Mitt Romney’s thumping of Barack Obama in the first presidential debate blew a hole in the Obama campaign’s hull. Suddenly, one debate seems capable of reshaping the race, and suddenly the Obama team needs a shift in momentum. And while Paul Ryan may be no Sarah Palin, he is among the more polarizing running mates in history, sure to draw a surplus of both admirers and haters.
So, what to expect? Here are four key themes to watch for:
Ryan plan vs. Obama record. Count on Biden going hard after the Ryan plan, the House budget document for which his opponent is famous (Obama once said it contains a vision of “social Darwinism”). During a recent campaign swing to Florida, Biden warned seniors that the Medicare-reform component of the Ryan plan, which Romney has adopted, would “fundamentally change Medicare. They’d turn it into a voucher program.” (Biden usually doesn’t note that, under the plan, seniors can remain in traditional Medicare if they want.) We’re likely to hear the same on Thursday night. He’ll try to pin down Ryan — more effectively than Obama did Romney — on the elusive details of the Romney-Ryan tax-reform plan. And he may repeat past assaultson Ryan for votes he cast in Congress that increased the national debt.
For his part, Ryan will parry on Medicare by noting Obamacare’s $716 billion in cuts to the program. Then he will light into the Obama Administration’s jobs record and the growing national debt. (Ryan’s campaign events often feature a large digital debt clock ticking away above the stage.) He’s likely to taunt Biden for recently turning $1 trillion in new taxes on the wealthy into an applause line. And on foreign policy, Ryan seems primed to make Biden squirm over new revelations about the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and to make the larger argument that U.S. foreign policy is “unraveling” worldwide.
Does experience matter? If Ryan goes after Biden on foreign policy, he’ll be staging an assault on the Vice President’s turf. Biden is a true foreign policy expert who, if only by dint of experience, could likely talk circles around his 42-year-old budget-focused foe. Biden will want to show off the depth of his knowledge — and put Ryan on the spot if possible — without seeming to talk down to his opponent. (The debate moderator, ABC News national-security reporter Martha Raddatz, is also likely to ask tough foreign policy questions.) Ryan, on the other hand, might turn Biden’s experience against him, noting that Biden has been in Washington 26 years longer than Ryan, presenting himself as a tribune of fresh, new ideas. And if Biden leans heavily on the killing of Osama bin Laden, Ryan might remind Biden that he advised Obama against undertaking that mission.
Working-class heroes. Biden and Ryan will compete to be the true champion of blue collar America. Biden takes special pride in his Scranton, Pa., Catholic roots — and he can lyricize about the working man better than almost anyone else in American politics. (How many of those hard-working stiffs will be tuned in to this debate instead of the baseball playoffs is another matter.) Biden is likely to deliver a rousing account of Obama’s auto-industry bailout, for instance. But Ryan will fight for the same piece of turf. On the stump, he has been playing up his small-town Wisconsin roots and cultural conservatism (he tries not to spotlight the fact that he’s also a millionaire). Ryan likes to remind voters of Obama’s 2008 riff about voters who “cling to guns or religion,” then declare, “I’m a Catholic deer hunter — guilty as charged.” By many accounts, Palin managed to out-populist Biden in 2008.
The gaffe factor. No discussion of a Joe Biden appearance could be complete without noting that there’s no telling what might happen anytime the man speaks extemporaneously for an extended period of time. Democrats can take comfort, however, in the memory that his debate with Palin as well as his many 2008 Democratic primary debates were largely Bidenism-free. As for Ryan, he’s a far more disciplined speaker, though we’ve seen recently that he can founder under pressure. And as Dan Quayle learned, you can lose a vice-presidential debate simply by being on the receiving end of a great zinger. Biden’s got some of those too. Which could make things entertaining for whoever is actually watching the debate undercard.

Morning Must Reads: Swing

Colorado: Romney 48%, Obama 47% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)
Florida: Obama 47%, Romney 46% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Michigan: Obama 49%, Romney 42% (Detroit News)
Ohio: Obama 51%, Romney 45% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Virginia: Romney 48%, Obama 47% (NBC/WSJ/Marist)
Virginia: Obama 51%, Romney 46% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)
Wisconsin: Obama 50%, Romney 47% (CBS/NYT/Quinnipiac)

Mitt Romney’s Pre-Existing Conditions

It’s hard to tell what Mitt Romney would do to solve the problem of sick uninsured Americans. Right now, these people often can’t find insurers willing to sell them policies or, if they can, the costs are prohibitive. Under Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurance companies will be required, beginning in 2014, to sell policies to anyone who wants one and to ignore customers’ health status when setting prices. This is possible because the ACA also requires nearly everyone to buy health insurance, flooding the market with millions of new customers, including healthy people, whose premiums will subsidize the cost of covering the sick.

Why USADA’s Case Against Lance Armstrong Is Compelling

Armstrong's former teammates testify against him, making a compelling case that he doped
ance Armstrong and his team ran the most sophisticated doping programme in sport
Lance Armstrong, takes part in a special session regarding cancer in the developing world in New York in this Sept. 22, 2010 file photo. Lance Armstrong and his team ran the most sophisticated doping programme in sport according to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USDA).

Do you believe Lance now?
For anyone who still thinks Lance Armstrong won his seven Tour de France titles, and inspired so many people around the world, as a drug-free athlete — which Armstrong has long claimed — Wednesday was rough. The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) released the evidence it has compiled against Armstrong, and it’s overwhelming: 11 of Armstrong’s teammates testified that the cycling legend, as well as his fellow riders for the US Postal Service (USPS) squad, ran what USADA labeled “the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program the sport has ever seen.” What’s worse, the USPS team received “tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars in funding.”
Former Armstrong teammate George Hincapie, his top lieutenant during his Tour de France run, was the most damning witness. Armstrong has called Hincapie, a close friend, his “best bro in the peloton.” Hincapie admitted to USADA that he doped, and implicated Armstrong in the process. According to USADA’s report outlining its case against Armstrong, for example:
In 2003 shortly before the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong asked to use George Hincapie’s Girona [Spain] apartment to do something Armstrong could not do at his own apartment because Armstrong had house guests at the time. Hincapie observed Dr. del Moral [Luis Garcia del Moral, a team doctor] and Armstrong enter Hincapie’s bedroom with Dr. del Moral carrying what appeared to be a blood bag.
Dr. del Moral asked to borrow a coat hanger and Armstrong and del Moral closed the door behind them. They were in the room about 45 minutes to an hour, which Hincapie knew from experience was “about the time it generally takes to re-infuse a bag of blood.” Hincapie also knew from experience that “when blood is re-infused a common practice is to tape the blood bag to a coat hanger and hang the hanger on the wall to facilitate transfer of the blood into the vein.” Thus, although he did not discuss the incident with Armstrong or Dr. del Moral, based on his observations, which were informed by his own experience, Hincapie was confident that Dr. del Moral was re-infusing blood for Armstrong, as Dr. del Moral had followed a similar procedure when re-infusing Hincapie’s blood on prior occasions. Hincapie was confident that Armstrong continued to use blood doping in 2003.
Hincapie also noted that after he once warned Armstrong that drug testers were at a race in Spain, Armstrong dropped out. Witnesses recounted roadside meetings in Italy between Armstrong and Mr. Michele Ferrari, who USADA banned in June because of his role in the doping scandal. During the 1999 Tour de France , according to the report, USPS relied on a guy dubbed “Motoman” to smuggle drugs on a motorcycle. Ex-Armstrong teammate Tyler Hamilton testified that he saw Armstrong using the “oil,” which was a “mixture of olive oil and Andriol (testosterone) developed by Dr. Ferrari,” at least once during the 1999 Tour de France, and that Armstrong “squirted the “oil” in Hamilton’s mouth after a stage of the race.
And on it goes, testimony about Armstrong’s doping in each of the seven years he won the Tour de France, between 1999 and 2005, and during his post-retirement comeback  later in the decade. The report also states that old Armstrong blood samples show strong indications of performance-enhancing drug use. “The evidence also includes direct documentary evidence including financial payments, emails, scientific data and laboratory test results that further prove the use, possession and distribution of performance enhancing drugs by Lance Armstrong,” Travis Tygart, head of USADA, said in a statement.
In August, Armstrong announced that he would not fight USADA’s charges against him, which many people read as a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. One of Armstrong’s lawyers, Tim Herman, called the report a “one-sided hatchet job” and “government-funded witch hunt,” while another, Sean Breen, described it as a “taxpayer-funded tabloid piece rehashing old, disproved, unreliable allegations based largely on axe-grinders, serial perjurers, coerced testimony, sweetheart deals and threat-induced stories.”
For much of the public, these details will pretty much close the book on Armstrong’s Tour de France career: Armstrong, like so many of his competitors, doped. Many people will want to move on, and don’t be surprised if the Livestrong foundation, the greatest legacy of the Lance Armstrong myth, survives, and maybe continues to thrive. People likely won’t take out their disappointment with Armstrong on cancer research.
There’s just one more question, really, for Lance –if you now believe he cheated. Why lie about it all these years? In a grueling competition like the Tour de France, in a sport filled with dopers, using stuff like testosterone and EPO is almost understandable. And America forgives users who come clean. Armstrong’s failure to see that is a mystery.

The Phenom

Mitt Romney's running mate was doing what he likes best: wonking out. "I'm kind of a powerpoint guy, so I hope you'll bear with me," Paul Ryan told about 2,000 people at the University of Central Florida gymnasium in Orlando in late September. The two giant screens flanking the stage flashed a rising red line--the U.S.'s current path toward fiscal Armageddon. "This is worse than Europe," he said. "We can't keep spending money we don't have." The next slide showed the flags of foreign countries, including China, that hold U.S. debt. "You lose your sovereignty," he said. "You lose your independence." Heads nodded.
But it was the slide Ryan left out of his presentation that may have said the most. Though he had promised the crowd "specific ideas, specific solutions," he actually didn't detail his plans to tackle the nation's $15 trillion debt. And his presentation, typical of Ryan as he stumps for the GOP ticket this fall, made no mention of his signature idea, adopted by Romney, to overhaul that beloved entitlement program for seniors, Medicare, and limit its growth. 

(PHOTOS: Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin)
It took a question from the crowd to get the wonk talking specifics. Democrats, warned a silver-haired man, were attacking Ryan's Medicare plan. "They've been trying to intimidate us retirees down here," he said. Though Ryan's plan wouldn't affect people currently 55 or older, he said, many seniors were nonetheless fearful about their benefits. "We need to get that message," the man urged, "out loud and clear."
"You can help us by getting the truth out," Ryan replied from the stage. Barack Obama, he said, is running "a campaign of division and distortion ... And nowhere is that more clear than on the issue of Medicare." Ryan went on to argue that Obama has passed his own cuts to the program and that the Ryan-Romney approach would involve "choice and competition."
The Republican crowd cheered. But the questioner had identified a threat to the GOP ticket in swing states like Florida. Recent polling shows Democrats winning the argument over Medicare, which many voters now call second in importance only to the economy. Romney's choice of Ryan in August "added a new issue to the agenda," says Robert Blendon, who tracks health care opinion at the Harvard School of Public Health. "And the issue is a negative one for the Romney-Ryan team." 

(PHOTOS: Paul Ryan: All Pumped Up For His Closeup)
With roughly three weeks left in a long campaign, Romney is feeling the calculated risk he took when he chose Ryan to be his running mate on Aug. 11. The selection thrilled conservatives eager for a bold campaign about entitlements and the size of government, but party strategists warned that he was inviting a savage Democratic "Mediscare" campaign of the sort Ryan's questioner warned him about. Two months later, the strategists are looking prescient. That may be why Romney and Ryan have spent little time promoting a vision of dramatic spending-and-entitlement cuts, maintaining a sharp focus on unemployment and a grab bag of Obama vulnerabilities from Middle East unrest to energy policy. Once famous for his long policy seminars, Ryan has steered clear of specifics. Whereas his predecessor, Sarah Palin, famously went rogue, Ryan has gone vague. 

(VIDEO: Paul Ryan Addresses the Republican National Convention)
And yet what few predicted was Ryan's skill as a campaigner. He has proved to be a kind of boy wonder, bringing youth and spirit to the ticket and firing up a sometimes lackluster Romney at their joint campaign events. "There's obvious energy when they're together," says one campaign aide. Ryan is even keeping the race close in his Democratic-leaning home state of Wisconsin. As Election Day approaches, a new reality has begun to emerge: Ryan may have been a smart pick for Romney despite his policy positions, not because of them.
Running on, and Away from, Medicare
Vice Presidential nominees rarely shape the course of a campaign. But Romney's selection of a Congressman famous for budget blueprints so austere that President Obama called them "social Darwinism" stirred unusual passions from the start. The Obama campaign called Ryan "radical" and "extreme," while conservatives saw something closer to deliverance and geared up for an epic clash of policy visions. "In choosing Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney is betting that Americans ... will reward the candidate who pays them the compliment of offering solutions that match the magnitude of the problems," applauded the Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page. 

(MORE: Biden vs. Ryan: What to Watch For in the Debate)
Ryan's most significant solution to the debt mess is his plan to overhaul Medicare, a program that--thanks to aging baby boomers, growing life expectancy and rising health care costs--is the fiscal equivalent of an open fire hydrant. His plan would try to contain those costs, which threaten to cripple the federal government with debt, by replacing the program's virtually unlimited reimbursements to physicians with fixed payments to seniors to buy health care. Democrats protest that these "vouchers," as they call them, will lag behind rising health care costs, leaving all but wealthy seniors unable to keep up. Not so, says Ryan, who promises that the plan will drive down overall costs by introducing private-sector competition and giving Medicare patients an incentive to pay attention to what their care costs. (Unlike earlier versions Ryan authored, it will also allow seniors to stay in traditional Medicare, although Democrats say the other changes will badly undermine the core program.)
At first, Romney seemed to embrace the challenge of having a budget cutter like Ryan on the ticket. "Medicare's one of those [things] that's very important to talk about," he said days after tapping Ryan. "We want this debate," Ryan said in Ohio. "We need this debate. And we will win this debate." 

(MORE: The Big Idea Guy
But that debate hasn't really happened. In his hard-edged Republican Convention speech, for instance, Ryan assaulted Obama's record but boiled down his proposal to avert a national fiscal crisis to platitudes: "A Romney-Ryan Administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom's generation, for my generation and for my kids and yours," Ryan said. He made no mention of reforming the program to limit its costs. Instead, both Romney and Ryan have gone on the attack, portraying Obama as the real enemy of Medicare. "The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we're going to stop it," Ryan said in Tampa. Likewise, Romney's only mention of the program at the convention was a similar shot at Obama's Affordable Care Act. There's sound political logic here: Republican attacks on Obamacare's $716 billion in cuts to Medicare providers played a starring role in the GOP's 2010 midterm-election romp. Ryan neglects to mention that his own budget proposal includes those same cuts, leading to Democratic charges of hypocrisy. "We got out ahead on it," says a Romney campaign aide. "The Obama campaign was on the defensive."
It wasn't long before Democrats were back on the offensive. In Charlotte, Bill Clinton blasted the Romney-Ryan approach as "the end of Medicare as we know it." And the Obama campaign has aired ads in Florida, Ohio and other swing states explaining that the "Ryan Plan" will raise costs for seniors; the ad closes with a shot of an elderly woman in her bathrobe reading medical bills with dismay.
So far, Democrats have kept the upper hand. A late-September survey by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that voters in Ohio, Virginia and Florida prefer Obama's Medicare position to the Romney-Ryan reforms by wide margins. In Florida, Obama has 65% support on the issue. Other polling has shown Obama gaining among seniors since Ryan entered the campaign as the issue of health care rises in importance to voters. "Since the conventions, Democrats have spent a lot of money to tell people what the Ryan plan is and how it works," Blendon notes. But it is also true that other polling has shown a murkier picture, with the candidates virtually tied on who would best handle Medicare policy. Republicans say that anything less than a commanding lead for Obama on an issue on which Democrats traditionally enjoy an advantage amounts to a win for the GOP.
Nor have Romney and Ryan entirely dodged the details of their Medicare plan. In the first debate, Romney unapologetically defended Ryan's Medicare vision as an effort to introduce competition into the program--but only after Obama raised the point (and Ryan's name) first. In a Sept. 21 speech to the AARP, much of which was devoted to attacking Obamacare, Ryan touted his plan as "empower[ing] future seniors to choose the coverage that works best for them," with a financial support system "designed to guarantee that seniors can always afford Medicare, no exceptions." But he offered no estimate of his plan's savings or how much more seniors who turn down traditional Medicare might have to pay.
Still, some conservatives fret that Romney is now stuck with the worst of both worlds: carrying the baggage of an unpopular Medicare plan without embracing it enough to excite small-government conservatives or develop a mandate for the idea should he be elected. "Most people feel that if you're going to have Ryan on the ticket, you might as well hit Medicare head-on," says one GOP operative.
Liberals say there's an obvious reason for muffling the Ryan message. The public doesn't support balancing the budget through huge spending cuts. Columnists may extol Ryan's budgets as visionary and hardheaded, but their particulars have never been popular. For instance, only 18% of Americans would support major cuts to Medicare to reduce the deficit, according to a June 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation poll. "The policies in the Ryan budget are deeply unattractive to both seniors and middle-class voters," says Neera Tanden, president of the liberal Center for American Progress.
It's fair to say that Ryan the candidate is a pure wonk in his diagnosis of America's economic ills. But when it comes to solutions, he is often just fuzzy. And it's not just health care. Grilled during a Sept. 30 Fox News appearance about how much Romney's proposed income tax cuts would cost, Ryan wouldn't answer. "I don't have the time. It would take me too long to go through all of the math," he said. Voters may be taking notice. "We keep talking about China and jobs, and then we talk about the unemployment," a woman at a town hall in Clinton, Iowa, told Ryan days later. "But where are the answers? I mean, why aren't you more specific? ... What are your plans?"
A Winner Either Way
Of course, campaigns are about more than policy details. And Ryan has been an asset in less tangible ways. His speech was a Tampa highlight, thrilling Republicans (and infuriating Democrats, who accused him of brazen lies). He has turned out to be a natural on the stump, more at ease and plain-speaking than the often starchy Romney. Dropping by a restaurant in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, Ryan worked in a reference to his days of tarpon and bone fishing in the Florida Keys. In Orlando, his face brightened when a woman who'd frantically waved her hand to ask a question joked that she felt like the eager Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back, Kotter. "I'm old enough to get that Horshack joke!" the 42-year-old Ryan quipped, drawing a round of giggles. Even Jon Stewart had to interrupt a recent anti-Ryan rant to call him "chiseled-chin McNicey face ... He's really good-looking."
Ryan has also been an important Romney messenger to blue collar voters who may be suspicious of a multimillionaire venture capitalist charged by Democrats with laying off dozens of workers. Ryan has stumped repeatedly in the industrial Midwest, touting his small-town Wisconsin roots, his Catholicism and his love of hunting.
And then there's the electoral map. Obama's durable lead in several battleground states limits Romney's path to an electoral majority. But Ryan's presence on the ticket has helped put in play Wisconsin's 10 electoral votes, which could be enough to rescue Romney if he loses Ohio. One respected poll recently showed Romney just two points behind in the Badger State.
If Romney does win, Ryan could become one of the most influential Vice Presidents in history. Perhaps no other No. 2 would take on the Veep's job with so clear a policy agenda. And the chemistry between the two men suggests that Ryan would have a prominent seat at Romney's table. Indeed, campaign aides say that a shared love of data and number crunching influenced Romney's decision to choose Ryan at least as much as any strategic calculus for the fall campaign.
And if Obama should prevail? Ryan is sure to be at the center of an internal war within the Republican Party over what went wrong. Party moderates will undoubtedly argue that going after a popular program like Medicare was a foolish fight to pick. Conservatives will bray--as they have already begun to do--that Ryan was never "unleashed," allowed to make the kind of sales pitch for his ideas that they have seen in private for several years now. "The Romney ticket would be well served to let Paul Ryan be Paul Ryan," Chris Chocola, head of the conservative Club for Growth, recently told the New York Times. The winning side in that civil war could determine whether Ryan is remembered as an accident of history or, more likely, an early favorite for the 2016 Republican nomination.