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Fighting the last war

The whole point of adding Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket, we were led to believe, was to add substance and a forward-thinking vision. And yet, at least for now, the right-wing vice presidential nominee is avoiding substance and taking a decidedly backwards-looking approach.

Consider this clip from a Ryan event in Pennsylvania yesterday.

The Republican congressman engaged in a series of rather predictable attacks against President Obama, but note how far back he went to find material. "Remember this other time where he was caught on video saying people like to cling to their guns and religion?" Ryan said. "Hey, I'm a Catholic deer hunter. I am happy to be clinging to my guns and my religion."

Ryan also complained, "Remember back in 2008, remember the guy Joe the Plumber? Remember when he said, you know, 'We wanna spread the wealth around'?"

The crowd roared with approval, but in case Republicans have forgotten, these were also standard GOP attack lines four years ago -- right up until Barack Obama won the highest percentage of the popular vote of any Democrat in 44 years.

Why in the world would Paul Ryan repeat stale attacks that didn't work the last time? Why would the allegedly brilliant "wonk" recycle Sarah Palin rhetoric circa 2008?

Because there's a school of thought on the right that still believes the president was insufficiently "vetted" in the last campaign, and if they rehash the old attacks, maybe they'll work this time around if the GOP ticket gives them a spirited push.

Republicans probably don't want to hear this, but Obama really was thoroughly vetted in 2008. It was the longest presidential campaign in history, and over the course of nearly two years, every possible aspect of his life was thoroughly scrutinized and examined. Obama was subjected to multiple opposition-research investigations, none of which turned up anything of real value.

Voters heard all about his church, his affiliations, his record, his family, and his views, and they elected him easily. The GOP can fight the last war again if it wants to, but the results are very likely to be the same.

Ryan may assume throwing red meat to the base with generate far-right, enmity-based enthusiasm. But four-year-old red meat is pretty rancid.