In the News: Paul Ryan and a WASP-free White House

Governor Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his Vice-Presidential running mate has been heralded by some conservatives as a triumph.  Ryan is known for his commitment to restricting abortion and defending traditional families.  He is also the GOP’s leading voice for budget-cutting, even to the point of earning some censure from Catholic leaders.   But the pick has been seen as a play to conservatives, or, as we say here at ILYBYGTH, to voters from Fundamentalist America.

One unusual aspect of Romney’s decision is that it guarantees a WASP-free White House for at least four more years.  Of course, there’s nothing new about a WASP-free White House.  Barack Obama is African American Protestant, while Joe Biden is Catholic.  But no matter who wins in November, with LDS (Morman) Romney and staunchly Catholic Ryan, there will be no White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant in this race.

This matters for a couple of reasons.  First, it shows the way Fundamentalist America is changing.  Sixty years ago, asking conservatives to line up behind a non-Protestant candidate was political suicide.  In 1928 and nearly in 1960, it was tricky even for the Democrats to run a Catholic candidate.  These days, many different types of conservatives celebrate the Romney-Ryan ticket.  Ryan is seen as the “conservative” choice, not the “Catholic” choice.  Just as with the Protestant-free US Supreme Court, the fact that conservatives don’t seem to care about the non-WASPiness of this election tells us something about the changing nature of American culture.

It would be easy to be cynical about this.  We could attack Fundamentalist America for being hypocritical.  Here is how this argument would go: conservatives demand respect for “traditional values,” but they don’t ever clarify what those values are.  Since such things change within even one lifetime, the defense of “traditional values” is meaningless.  What last year’s traditionalist defends as a necessary part of American life, next year’s traditionalist insists was never part of traditionalist thinking.  In this case, traditionalist conservatives could be taken to task for shifting their “traditional values” without ever admitting it.  Sixty years ago, Catholics and LDS members were seen by many as outsiders, owing loyalty to a foreign potentate, in the case of Catholics.

A more sympathetic interpretation, however, is that this change from WASP to a more big-tent conservatism shows the healthy ways Fundamentalist America can change.  Fundamentalist America, in this line of thinking, is not the dinosaur it is made out to be.  It is a dynamic, thoughtful, fully contemporary way to be American.  As American culture broadens to welcome former outsiders such as Catholics and African Americans, so too does Fundamentalist America.

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