Paul Ryan Is No Sarah Palin

That's the good news. The bad news? Mitt Romney's running mate will very competently do all the bad things you'll absolutely hate.

First of all, let’s give Mitt Romney credit where credit is due: Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin.

No really: That’s a great thing. Whatever else you think of him—and there’s plenty that’s not so great, but we’ll get to that soon—Ryan actually has experience in government and knowledge of the issues. With this single act, Romney has already proven that he has more respect for voters and concern about governance than his GOP predecessor, John McCain, whose selection of Palin as running mate in 2008 was utterly craven and looks increasingly worse as the years pass.

If journalists ask him what newspapers he reads, Ryan will be able to give an answer.

If Romney wins the presidency, Ryan appears prepared to be a heartbeat away.

And if the Romney ticket loses, Ryan will probably go back to Congress instead of starring in reality shows for the next four years. He’s not a dilettante. Ryan is a serious, prepared candidate, and Democrats would be unwise to underestimate him.

That’s the good news for America. Here’s the bad news: If elected, Ryan will very seriously and very competently implement some truly awful policies.

Ryan, after all, is the guy who came up with a proposal to privatize Social Security that was so extreme that the administration of George W. Bush rejected it.

He’s the guy whose Medicare reform plan would push millions of senior citizens into poverty—by shifting increasing medical expenses onto them in their low-earning retirement years—instead of protecting them from destitution, as the program does now.

And he’s the guy whose proposal to eliminate taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interests would reduce Mitt Romney’s effective tax rate to about 1 percent.

Less prominently, Ryan is anti-gay, anti-choice, pro-war, and (most hilariously) pro-Ayn Rand.

In other words: He’s a standard-issue Republican: Concerned for the rich, heedless of everybody else, willing to write a blank check to the Pentagon but force other agencies to live with scraps. Only he’s a little more Republican than most Republicans, because he’s the guy who convinced the GOP—always fearful of losing elections—that they should try to cut safety net programs anyway. Without his leadership, Republicans would probably have remained content to talk big about small government without ever doing anything about it.

Which means, come to think of it, that Ryan is actually quite a bit like Sarah Palin—without the perpetual sense of grievance, hokey hockey-mom jokes, or willingness to abandon public service for a quick buck, to be sure. He’s not likely to start making inflammatory comments about how President Obama likes to “pal around with terrorists.” Instead, he’s going to smile and talk about America and and self-reliance do it in a soothing, smart way that doesn’t produce quite the tribalistic line-in-the-sand culture warfare that Palin can’t help but create. Then when he takes office, he’ll gut the support systems that stand between your family and the edge of the economic cliff.

He’s Palinism with a friendlier face and lot more political savvy, Tea Party-ism without the funny costumes and Glenn Beck fixation.

He’s dangerous, in other words, on a lot of issues that lots of Americans care about. But at least he’s competent, right?