The assumption among liberals is that the more the public learns about Paul Ryan, the easier it will be to brand him (in the words of Obama campaign honcho David Axelrod) as a “certifiable right-wing ideologue.” The core of that strategy is the belief liberals can demonize Ryan’s budget and his effort to reform entitlements. But another aspect of it is the notion that the Republican vice presidential candidate’s social conservatism is also an easy target. As a New York Times article details, Ryan is pro-life, an opponent of gay marriage and opposes the federal mandate that all employers must be compelled to pay for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs even if it contradicts their religious scruples. The assumption is that the mere listing of these positions that so offend liberal orthodoxy will ensure the defeat of the Republicans.

But as Politico notes today, as much as Ryan helps energize the conservative base behind a Romney candidacy about which they were lukewarm, placing the articulate congressman from Wisconsin on the ticket also helps put the votes of Catholics who are independents or conservative Democrats into play. While those who look to the editorial page of the New York Times for guidance may be outraged about Ryan’s positions on social issues, the number of those voters — including those whose support might be up for grabs in November — who share his view of ObamaCare as well as on abortion, gay marriage and guns is far greater. Ryan’s impact on the working-class Catholic vote that helped make the difference for Barack Obama in some states four years ago is a factor that many analysts are underestimating.

While it is possible that Mediscare tactics will stampede some voters who would otherwise vote against the president’s re-election, the idea that independents will be scared away from a conservative because of his views on abortion is something of a liberal myth. Those who have no sympathy for Ryan’s pro-life views or disagree with his opposition to more restrictions on gun ownership were never going to vote for Romney anyway.

But, as much as this may surprise the editorial board of the New York Times, there are voters out there who will see the elevation of a faithful Catholic to the GOP ticket as motivation to vote for Romney. The proof of this is in the composition of the Democratic ticket. While Biden is a supporter of abortion, his role in mobilizing working-class Catholics behind Obama was widely acknowledged in 2008. Democrats may believe their push behind a “social justice” agenda will help them hold onto Catholic voters, but the ObamaCare mandate against religious freedom is the flaw in that theory.

As much as many Catholics may disagree with their church’s teaching on contraception, the spectacle of the government compelling religious institutions as well as individuals to choose between their consciences and obeying the federal mandate is one that hurts Obama. Far from Ryan’s social conservatism being a problem for the GOP, the ability of the veep nominee to make a strong case for both economic freedom and the principles of his upbringing is an undervalued asset in the election.

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