An "Armageddon" Election

The quotation marks are for those Christians eschatologically oriented to think I mean it literally. No, this election is not going to bring about the great final battle between the forces of good and evil. But, speaking metaphorically, it has become something of an "Armageddon" election.


By choosing Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has signaled that this election will be about fundamentals. No tinkering around the margins. No mere soft, pragmatic appeals to tax rates and "jobs plans." Rather, this election is now going to be about two fundamentally distinct visions for the United States of America. The path of fiscal solvency or the path of bankruptcy. The path of upward mobility and freedom or the path of dependency and economic stagnation. With his Vice Presidential pick, Romney has just mapped out the theater of war and drawn the battle lines as sharply as possible.

It was a bold, decisive move, and one that impresses me deeply. This is not the squishy, soft, pragmatic, say-anything-to-get-elected Mitt Romney. Many pundits think the "safe" way for Mitt to go was to make the election a simple economic referendum on Barack Obama's tenure in the White House. Yes, that had the potential to be successful, but the downside is that, upon ousting Obama, his mandate for change would have been commensurate with the safe, pragmatic campaign he would have run. Instead, Romney has decided that since a massive course correction is the need of this late hour in America, he is going to run and win on a massive course correction. And so November is shaping up to be a sort of Armageddon: a "final" battle between the conservative and progressive visions for America.

I say: it is about time!

If you are looking for good commentary on the Ryan pick, there is simply no shortage. I've just given you my sense of things, but since I am a theologian and not a political scientist, you may want some further perspective. Among the best I've read is my friend David Bahnsen's impressive analysis. David sees very little downside to the Ryan pick. In short, the Obama campaign was going to run on a caricature of Paul Ryan's vision anyway; but now they have to run against the actual Paul Ryan. And nobody can articulate the vision better than Congressman Ryan.

Romney and Ryan want America to have an adult conversation. This is silly, of course. Exactly one side of the debate going into November will be having an adult conversation. The other side will be accusing the other of killing Grandma, causing cancer, hiking taxes on the middle class to "pay for" tax cuts for the rich, and so forth. Utterly childish behavior. But here's the thing: that was the Left's game plan no matter what, and no matter who the Vice Presidential pick was. They have nothing positive to run on. You do not hear Obama out on the stump lauding his record. Conspicuously absent are things like Solyndra, Obamacare, and a $16 Trillion debt. Romney and Ryan have no alternative than to simply hold a one-sided adult conversation and make their case to the American people. I believe they can, and do not harbor the doubts that some people have about this. They think the demagoguery of Obama will work. They think seniors will be scared by entitlement reform. But I am convinced that David Bahnsen is right: Paul Ryan has succeeded in persuading people his entire political life. His Congressional district is Blue. He can, in fact, persuade 55% or more of seniors that serious entitlement reform is necessary for coming generations. Elderly people really do care about their children and grandchildren; they are not craven narcissists, only interested in their current check from the U.S. Treasury (and yet progressives supposedly have a high view of human nature!). And in his favor, of course, is the fact that Paul Ryan's plan wouldn't even affect current or soon-to-be seniors. I have a separate post on that coming, but you need to put that one in the memory bank, for this simple reason: no media outlet describing Ryan's entitlement reform will ever (and I mean EVER) tell you that his plans do not effect those 55 and older. That wouldn't help the Obama campaign demagoguery. No, sir.

I find it somewhat amusing that some pundits who, just a week ago, were urging the Romney campaign to pivot to a positive message, who lamented that a negative "Barack Obama is a failure" campaign would not be enough, are now trembling with the Ryan pick. Yet, Romney did exactly what they wanted. You want a positive message about what we are going to do? I'll one-up you, and pick the architect of the conservative plan. Be careful what you wish for!

Is Romney's pick of Ryan a defensive one? Is it a sign of weakness, of a flagging campaign? Is it desperation? I think not. It is sometimes true that a poker player will go "all in," pushing every last chip into the pot in a go-for-broke effort, while holding only marginal cards. When a player bluffs like this, it is usually a risky act of desperation, hoping the other player will blink and fold. The Ryan pick was Romney's all-in moment, and he did it because he believes he has a very strong, winning hand. In an "Armageddon" election, a final showdown, he thinks America will vote for... America, not Europe. I believe he is reading it right. If the conservative vision cannot succeed in the current social, economic, and political environment, it cannot and will not ever succeed. This is the all-in moment, if there ever is to be one, and Romney has read it perfectly.

If you want to read amusing commentary from a conservative evangelical angle, I can point you to no better place than Douglas Wilson's blog. Amusing, that is, if you like witnessing a usually sharp mind tying itself into a soft pretzel with mustard on top. Doug began this election cycle with the unalterable premise that he will not vote for Mitt Romney. Now he's in search of a reason. I don't envy him the task of finding it, because he is now at the point where he is trying (pathetically) to explain why Mitt Romney is somehow a squishier conservative than John McCain, for whom he voted!  The various rationales are increasingly becoming so absurd I am seriously entertaining the possibility that Doug has a reason he will not openly share: Mitt Romney is a Mormon. But Doug does not want to open that can of worms, so he plays all sorts of intellectual Tiddlywinks with the various ancient Kings of Israel to underwrite his various hmm-ings and hawings. He should just come out and say it and defend it if that is going to be his position. That would generate a real discussion that could prove fruitful for evangelicalism at large. But please, please spare us the Mitt Romney is less trustworthy than John McCain claptrap.

Coming soon I will have a couple of posts on the only two Obama attacks you will hear every day from now until November: Romney wants to kill Grandma, and Romney wants to raise your taxes to "pay for" tax cuts for his wealthy cronies. Speaking of weak cards... wow. This is like holding an Ace high when there is an obvious Full House on the table. I will explain why these attacks are really, really, really stupid. And hopefully in a way that you can explain very easily to your friends and neighbors. You could also buy a few copies of this book to give them!

Brian Mattson