THE VILLAGES, Fla. -- It was Mother’s Day in August, as Republican vice presidential candidate Paul D. Ryan deftly turned his 78-year-old mom into a campaign prop Saturday, weaving her into an escalating debate over Medicare and using her as a weapon to attack President Obama on the economy.
Betty Ryan Douglas, a part-time Florida resident, made her 2012 presidential campaign debut when her son walked her onto an outdoor rally stage at Florida’s largest retirement community.
“This is my Mom, Betty. She’s why I’m here. She and her grandkids are why I’m here,” the Wisconsin congressman told several hundred senior supporters. His mother, wearing a bright yellow suit and considerably shorter than her son, took her seat without speaking.
PHOTOS: Paul Ryan’s pastRyan often mentions his mother to personalize the Medicare fight. But on his initial campaign visit to Florida, the state with the country’s largest proportion of senior voters, she became a focal point.
Ryan warned that an independent federal panel, created under the new federal healthcare law to rein in Medicare costs, will lead to rationing of care for today’s seniors.
If he and Mitt Romney are elected, “we will make sure that this board of bureaucrats will not mess with my Mom’s healthcare or your mom’s healthcare,” he said. Mitt Romney and Ryan want Congress to repeal the healthcare law.
Medicare is “not just a program. It’s not just a bunch of numbers. It’s what my Mom relies on. It’s what my grandma had,” he said.
Offering new autobiographical details from the period around his father’s death, in 1986, when Ryan was 16, he said that his grandmother had moved in “with my Mom and me, when I was in high school. She had advanced Alzheimer’s. My Mom and I were her two primary caregivers. You learn a lot about life. You learn a lot about your elderly, seniors, in your family.”
Ryan said that Medicare “was there for our family, for my grandma, when we needed it then, and Medicare is there for my Mom while she needs it now, and we need to keep that guarantee.”
He also said that after her husband’s death, his mother, who later remarried, went back to college and started an interior decorating business with three or four employees.
“We were taking care of my grandma at the time. She was going to school, and then she started this small business,” he said.
Then, turning to his mother, he lobbed a salvo at Obama, to the delight of the partisan crowd.
“Mom, Mom, I am proud of you for going out, getting another degree. I am proud of you, for the small business that you created, and Mom, you DID build that!” said Ryan, in a dig at the president, who opened himself to prolonged criticism from Republicans when he told a campaign audience in Virginia that small business owners did not build their companies by themselves.
Like other Northerners, Ryan’s mother divides her time between her Wisconsin home and the Atlantic Coast town of Lauderdale-By-The-Sea in South Florida.
“We have this rule in Wisconsin. It’s kind of an unwritten rule. You turn 65, you’ve got to go south for the winter,” her son joked. “My Mom’s a snowbird.”
He said his mother “plays tennis every week, she exercises every day. She planned her retirement around this promise that the government made her, because she paid her payroll taxes into [Medicare].” he said. “That’s a promise we have to keep.”