Mark Leibovich's Cover Profile of Paul Ryan for NYT Mag Steeped In His Typical Anti-GOP Hostility
"Paul Ryan Can't Lose," a 5,000-word cover story by Mark Leibovich, the New York Times magazine's chief national correspondent, conformed to the writer's history of cynical, unsympathetic profiles of Republican candidates.
According to Leibovich, Newt Gingrich is "among the more divisive political figures of recent decade," always threatening to become "Nasty Newt," former vice president Al Gore is a "compelling" "pop culture icon." Offered the fat target of Vice President Joe Biden, Leibovich instead buttered him up. Yet former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney didn't escape: "Critics deride him as a Prince of Darkness whose occasional odd episodes - swearing at a United States senator, shooting a friend in a hunting accident and then barely acknowledging it publicly - suggest a striking indifference to how he is perceived."
Leibovich even used his Ryan profile to take an arbitrary and snotty swipe at the "let’s say, knowledge-averse bent" of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann.
He met Ryan as he "sat on the edge of a couch in his suite at the Cincinnatian Hotel, his left fist clenched so tightly around the neck of his bottle of Miller Lite that I could see the veins bulging in his hands," watching the Green Bay Packers game. Leibovich came armed with cynicism.
Ryan tries to plan his schedule around Packers games and also owns shares in the team, the only nonprofit, community-held professional sports franchise in the United States. “I am an owner,” he said proudly. When I made a crack about how that would make him another of Mitt Romney’s rich N.F.L.-owner pals -- a reference to Romney’s ill-fated attempt in March to score Everyman points by asserting his friendship with a couple of the league’s chieftains -- Ryan did not seem to know what I was talking about, or pretended not to.
Later in the interview he accused Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann of ignorance.
...his selection as running mate instantly mollified two basic insecurities that had been nagging at the conservative establishment for some time: one was that their standard-bearer, Romney, was a closet moderate who could not win over the hard-core “movement conservatives”; the other was that the fervor that animated the Tea Party movement had acquired a dangerously anti-intellectual strain, embodied by the likes of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain. When I asked Ryan if today’s Republican Party was more “idea based” than it was two years ago, he squinted his intense eyes, nodded hard and said yes. I then asked his opinion of the more, let’s say, knowledge-averse bent of some conservative populism, mentioning Palin and Bachmann while understanding that he obviously couldn’t outwardly offend them or their supporters. “I have my poker face on,” Ryan said before letting slip with a tight grin.
He even managed to spin Ryan's brainy persona and way with a slide show as insecurity, "his apparent inability to communicate without his security blanket" of PowerPoint.
Ryan is gifted at shrouding a cutthroat ambition in sheepish nonchalance. It is a key political still -- trying constantly to impress without looking as if you’re trying -- and one that has eluded many politicians past and present. He is also deft at conveying precision and specificity without being the least bit precise or specific. He has honed his image carefully and promotes it relentlessly on the stump. In late September, Ryan introduced a slide-show demonstration to his appearances. “I’m sort of a PowerPoint guy, so bear with me,” he said the first time he did this, in Orlando, Fla., by way of apologizing for his apparent inability to communicate without his security blanket. Though his PowerPoint presentation is an extremely basic four-slide tutorial that shows how much the national debt has risen since World War II -- something that many fifth graders could grasp -- his home crowds invariably nod and praise him for his faith in their ability to grasp hard truths. The PowerPoint shtick, combined with the headbanger energy of AC/DC (“It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’ roll” blares when Ryan arrives onstage), conveys a not-so-subtle message that Ryan is a distinctly un-Romney-like next-generation hybrid and that he’s just ready to get out there and do some truth-telling.
A hostile liberal, former Rep. Barney Frank, was ushered on stage to bash Ryan and Christian Republicans in Congress as well.
Skeptics say Ryan owes his superwonk standing as much to comparisons with his colleagues than to any great knowledge or depth. In a recent profile of Ryan by Alec McGillis in The New Republic, Barney Frank dismissed his colleague’s brainy reputation as being relative to that of other House Republicans, some of whom had just been implicated in a late-night escapade during a Congressional trip to Israel last summer. “He is being graded on a curve,” Frank said of Ryan, “with a bunch of guys who jump into the Sea of Galilee because they want to be closer to God.”
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site.