Romney VP Pick Could Finally Galvanize Hollywood (Analysis)

Paul Ryan Blue - H2012

Paul Ryan Blue - H2012

Rep. Paul Ryan's hard-right ideology may rekindle the entertainment industry's enthusiasm for Obama.

By selecting Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate Mitt Romney hopes to galvanize the Republican Party’s conservative base, but his choice also may kick Hollywood’s enthusiasm for President Barack Obama back into overdrive.

Ryan, the House budget chief, is also the reigning intellectual force among the young, Tea Party-tinged congressional insurgents. His proposed federal budget has become virtually an article of faith on the GOP right and supporting it was one of the ritual obeisances Romney had to make to reassure conservatives about his views. It’s not, however, a document likely to win many friends in liberal Hollywood, since it essentially involves repealing the New Deal -- and then some.

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"If you were some of these folks sitting on the sideline saying, 'I don't really want to get involved and I'm not so happy with Obama,' you've got a real choice here," said longtime political consultant Bill Carrick. "If Romney and Ryan win, they are going to have a mandate to do some real destruction."

To be sure, Hollywood liberals have donated an impressive sum of money -- about $12 million -- to Obama and the Democratic National Committee this election season. Jeffrey Katzenberg, George Clooney and Harvey Weinstein have hosted fundraisers that have not only brought in Hollywood dollars but millions more from other industries. 

Nevertheless, overall enthusiasm for the president has lagged considerably in the entertainment industry, as compared to four years ago. This week Hollywood party planners were having a hard time finding performers to make the trek to Charlotte, North Carolina, for the Democratic National Convention. (Which is being held the same week as MTV's Video Music Awards show.) The Ryan announcement could be the spark industry activists were hoping for."I think it will enrage a lot of people in the progressive side," Carrick said.

After Romney officially announced Ryan as his VP pick Saturday morning, some Hollywood politicos were quick to post their views on Twitter.

"The worst thing about the modern Republican Party is how they force millions of us to vote for Democrats," comedian John Fugelsang quipped.

George Lopez joked: "@MittRomney I believe you just locked down the Latino Vote!"

The Obama camp already is attacking one of the Ryan budget’s most obvious features, a proposal to end Medicare as we know it and to replace it with private insurance vouchers. Ryan also has proposed privatizing social security and eliminating the income tax deduction for home mortgage interest. The latter step, analysts say, would be taken to offset tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. In fact, a study by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that the cuts Ryan proposes would not only end all federal aid to state and local governments, but also require shutting down most federal agencies, like the Food and Drug Administration, the FAA air traffic system and even most of the U.S. courts.

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Aside from the these policy issues, Ryan—who once wrote speeches for conservative icons Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett -- brings a great deal of philosophical baggage to the table. Though he’s recently tried to distance himself from that part of his past, the Wisconsin congressman -- who also happens to be a favorite of the libertarian Koch Brothers -- was a long-time devotee of the controversial philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand.

He once told an interviewer for the Weekly Standard that “I give out (Rand’s) ‘Atlas Shrugged’ as Christmas gifts, and I make all my interns read it.” As recently as 2005 he told a gathering of Rand disciples that “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

Rand had a stint in Hollywood as a screenwriter and always was disappointed by her inability to convert more of the film community to the brand of systematic selfishness she called “Objectivism,” though it remains popular with philosophical libertarians, like the billionaire Koch brothers and others.

The Obama campaign will be doing a lot of educating among voters about Ryan’s background in the months ahead and look for Hollywood to play a part. The town’s core values are of the liberal persuasion rooted in the New Deal and a Ryan inflected government, critics say, would upend its legacy. Moreover, for all its wealth, Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry is filled with self-made men and women, many of whom have had to rely on public services at various times or who had family members who do.

It’s also a community whose very survival depends on keeping in touch with the values of middle class Americans, and Ryan’s proposals would fundamentally alter their entire relationship to the government.

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In other words, Ryan may raise ideological conservatives’ spirits, but he’s more likely to frighten the rest of America -- including Hollywood, where politicos have raised about  $12 million for Obama and the Democratic National Committee this election season.

The prospect that a hard-right firebrand might be, as Romney said during his announcement Saturday, “the next President,” seems likely to send the entertainment industry’s anxiety level -- and, therefore, its activism and fundraising -- through the roof.

On Saturday morning, former GOP presidential hopeful turned conservative commentator Mike Huckabee told an interviewer that while vice presidential selections don’t decide national elections, “they can either excite or chill out the base. [Ryan] is going to at least keep them satisfied because he has those right issues under his belt. I think it’s a great pick.”

So, too, may president Obama’s backers in Hollywood.