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A toned-down Paul Ryan
The vice presidential candidate tries not to scare people

Paul Ryan held a rally in Waukesha this week, wearing a Green Bay Packers necktie and flashing a camouflage cell phone case, in order to connect with voters in his home state of Wisconsin. So now we know the House Budget Committee chairman roots for the Pack with his tie on, and carries a phone appropriate for keeping in touch with the office while he takes his kid deer hunting. This is what passes for folksy in Washington.

Striking a populist chord, Mitt Romney's running mate chastised the Obama administration for crushing the dreams of American college students and stranding the poor and middle class in a bad economy.

"Half of all our recent college graduates are either not working in the field they studied or are not working at all," he said. "Fifteen percent of Americans are living in poverty. This is unacceptable."

But, of course, Ryan's budget plan would not exactly expand opportunity for college students or those millions living in poverty.

The poor and those who depend on loans and grants to go to college, not to mention Social Security and Medicare, are among the 30% Ryan says "want their welfare state." You know, the ones who threaten to drag down the whole country so that, as Ryan puts it, "Before too long, we could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers, not makers."

Needless to say, that quote - caught on video at a GOP fundraiser, the same venue where Romney made his 47% comment - is not the theme the Romney-Ryan ticket is trying to run on right now.

The trouble for Ryan is that he was picked in order to energize the base with his bold right-wing ideology - and now, in the homestretch of the election, he has to tone down that ideology in order to keep from scaring people. Ayn Rand may be Ryan's hero, but she is not comforting bedtime reading for most Americans, especially in an economic downturn.

It's strange to hear Ryan talk about the immorality of saddling future generations with debt. And not just because he cast so many votes that helped drive up the deficit, including two unfunded wars and an expensive federal program that pays top dollar to drug companies. It's strange because an ideology that includes opposing extending unemployment benefits to downsized autoworkers in his hometown of Janesville (as Ryan did) but offers massive tax cuts to corporations (as Ryan's budget plan does) is hard to put in the same sentence with the word "morality."

Even as they are bewitched by Ryan's "boldness" and purported genius at math, the Republicans are aware of his political problems.

Romney surprised everyone, including the president, when he leaped out of the box as the old moderate Gov. Romney during the first presidential debate. Make Medicare into a voucher program? Certainly not!

Romney seems to have lost his copy of the Paul Ryan Budget Plan on the way to the debates.

In his own debate, Ryan was forced to grit his teeth and tell the world that a Romney-Ryan ticket will oppose abortion except in cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mother. Those exceptions are not at all what Ryan stands for. He has earned the endorsement of both Wisconsin Right to Life and the more extreme, pro-"personhood" Pro-life Wisconsin.

Ryan opposed a "life of the mother" exception in "partial-birth" abortion cases. And, despite distancing himself recently from both Todd Akin and Wisconsin Rep. Roger "some-girls-rape-easy" Rivard, Ryan joined Akin's effort to pass legislation to redefine rape as "forcible rape."

He was one of 64 House Republicans to cosponsor the Sanctity of Human Life Act pushed by the "personhood" movement. This would recognize every fertilized egg as a full person with the same constitutional rights as any other American citizen.

In his seven terms in Congress, Ryan has never cast a vote against the National Right to Life position, earning a 100% approval rating from anti-choice groups.

But morality, as we've seen, is a slippery notion for Ryan. Maybe, when he does the math, compromising his beliefs on abortion is a reasonable trade for taking back America for "the makers," as his hero Ayn Rand put it.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.

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