By mid-day Saturday, the front page of the New York Times' website said Paul Ryan's addition to Mitt Romney's ticket meant a renewed focus on "fiscal" issues. This struck me as odd, in part because of Ryan's lack of fiscal credibility -- more on that later this morning -- but also because the right-wing congressman has far broader interests.
Sure, Ryan has a reputation within the establishment for a focus on budgeting, but his interest in the culture war is real, if underappreciated.
[O]n abortion and women's health care, there isn't much daylight between Ryan and, say, Michele Bachmann. Any Republican vice presidential candidate is going to be broadly anti-abortion, but Ryan goes much further. He believes ending a pregnancy should be illegal even when it results from rape or incest, or endangers a woman's health. He was a cosponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a federal bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, which, if passed, would criminalize some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization.
The National Right to Life Committee has scored his voting record 100 percent every year since he entered the House in 1999. "I'm as pro-life as a person gets," he told the Weekly Standard's John McCormack in 2010. "You're not going to have a truce."
The "truce" reference came in response to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' (R) suggestion that the Republican Party effectively walk away from hot-button social issues, focusing attention away from the culture war. Ryan was making it clear he found Daniels' suggestion unacceptable -- the Budget Committee chairman wants very much to keep the culture war going indefinitely.
At a certain level, this may not seem surprising. Ryan is a congressional Republican, and nearly all congressional Republicans are very conservative on social issues. But that's why the details matter -- the perception of Ryan as a budget wonk obscures his deep commitment to fighting cultural battles, and for that matter, even on Capitol Hill, Ryan is considered very far to the right, as evidenced by his sponsorship of a "Personhood"-style measure.
What's more, Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay, against repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," against Planned Parenthood funding that has traditionally enjoyed broad, bipartisan support, and for a constitutional amendment against marriage equality. Ryan also condemned the Obama administration's policy expanding access to contraception.
Given Mitt Romney's new-found interest in the culture war, it's worth realizing the Republican ticket's focus goes far beyond the budget and the economy.