Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ian M. MacIsaac: Surprise, it's Paul Ryan! Will his radical views help or hurt a flagging Romney campaign?

  The announcement came at a rally in Norfolk, Va. early this morning, at the outset of an economy-and-jobs tour through the crucial swing states of Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio.

  The jobs-themed, four-state stretch had been in Romney's public plans for weeks, but today unfolded with the surreal yet somewhat fitting accompaniment of Paul Ryan next to Governor Romney, two handsome, well-chinned Midwesterners with twin coiffed brown haircuts, advertising a revamped, joint economic plan.

  The Ryan pick is thoroughly different, especially for a deliberate thinker and planner like Romney. Since the McGovern campaign's disaster with vice presidential candidate Tom Eagleton during the 1972 campaign against Richard Nixon, the abiding principle for VP picks is the old medical adage: first, do no harm.
  Then-Senator Obama followed this rule to a T four years ago when he selected fellow Senator Joe Biden as his running mate. Simultaneously, his opponent John McCain's selection of the unprepared and subordinate Sarah Palin caused the presidential candidate no end of grief.

  Romney picking Ryan is not quite the absolute shocker that the Palin selection was four years ago. A Romney-Ryan ticket nonetheless signals a growing rightward trend among the Republicans, particularly in Congress, toward Tea Party sentiment as party orthodoxy.

  Ryan, a 42-year-old, seven-term congressman from Wisconsin's 1st district, has presented himself as his party's top policy intellectual (if such a thing even still exists in a party whose last president so publicly prided himself on anti-intellectualism). Either way, Ryan has most certainly become one of his party's top budget and deficit radicals.

  He is a conservative's arch-conservative: he requires that every member of his congressional staff read Ayn Rand's pro-capitalist, pro-individualist tome Atlas Shrugged, and has pledged that he will never cast a vote to increase the deficit, not even in a time of war--despite a congressional voting record that says otherwise.


  What does Ryan's addition to the ticket bring to the Romney campaign? Ryan's vice presidential candidacy may provide Romney with a bump in the congressman's home state of Wisconsin to the tune of 2-3 percentage points (although recorded Ryan on August 8 as being worth only 0.7 percent of the Wisconsin vote).

  On the other hand, nationally the Ryan pick will likely be effective in firming up the Tea Party/right-wing party base which has always been rather suspicious of moderate Massachusetts Mitt.

  The big problem with Paul Ryan, especially with the undecided voters who will decide this election, is his budget.

  The budget Ryan took a lead in authoring and later co-sponsored as chair of the House Budget Committee, entitled "The Path to Prosperity," was first released as Congressional Republicans' budget proposal for fiscal year 2012. Its proponents today include Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

  The so-called 'Ryan plan' would save the country from "spiraling debts" by making huge cuts in Medicare and Medicaid. Ryan's plan would turn Medicare into a private voucher system for all Americans born after 1956, and turn Medicaid back to the states as block grants, allowing far-right governors to do as they please with money they will certainly never willingly give to the poor citizens it is meant for.

  Paul Ryan's budget would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), as Romney has already pledged to do multiple times throughout the campaign--even though fellow arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts himself declared constitutional the centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate to purchase private health insurance.

  In addition, the Ryan budget would cut the six existing federal income tax brackets down to just two, likely to even further increase the concentration of wealth at the top.

  Ryan's plan also includes a 50 percent cut in non-defense discretionary spending as a percentage of GDP followed by a cap at that drastically lowered level, but offers no potential cuts to the massive, bloated, Cold-War era military budget.

  Despite proclaiming himself as a hard-questions, tough-positions, and honest-answers fiscal hawk, Ryan is an adherent of the old right-wing ways of the 1970s and 1980s, still insistent on giving the Pentagon every dollar it asks for.

  Purely on economic and statistical grounds, it is also a bad argument. Since almost 50 percent of discretionary spending every year goes directly to the Department of Defense in the first place, cutting non-defense discretionary spending by half is still an only 25 percent dent in only discretionary spending, at the likely price of a complete ravaging of America's growing lower-middle and lower classes.

  (For those of you reading who are around my age, that means never getting another Pell Grant, let alone health insurance for when you're sick.)

  The simple truth is that no budget written or backed by the 21st century Republican Party will ever include major defense cuts, even though the Defense Department receives between $530 and $560 billion a year, more than any other Executive branch department. The Republican Party's major donors simply would not allow it.


  Cut social programs, keep growing the defense budget, and raise no taxes under any circumstances. This is the Ryan budget.

  How is this supposed to be 'fresh' Republican thinking? These have been the basic tenets of conservative Republican orthodoxy since Governor Ronald Reagan's 1976 primary run against sitting President Ford.

  Republicans proclaim Ryan to be one of their party's key fresh faces, one of their chief men of ideas. The problem is that the United States already tried this governing philosophy before. It was called the Reagan administration. And the Bush administration. And then another Bush administration.

  If the meaning of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, the Ryan budget is a brutally literal, textbook example.

  Furthermore, the Ryan budget, and what Romney's decision to pick Ryan says about Romney, plays right into what President Obama has said throughout the campaign about Romney being all too willing to ignore the middle class and cut needed government programs in order to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires--exactly what the Ryan plan aims to do.

  At least Ryan, unlike Romney, has been absolutely clear about his policy intentions. Ryan has thousands of pages of opinions and policy proposals available for investigation, analysis, and quotation by strategists, reporters, and--most importantly--voters.

  On the other hand, Mitt Romney has worked with both the surgical precision of nuanced yet meaningless words, as well as with the brute force of cover-ups and repeated lies, to avoid taking any sort of consequential stand or position on anything.

  Any stands he had taken previously in the past have been swiftly reversed in time for the 2012 presidential campaign. He is the softest, least specific Republican candidate since Bob Dole.


  Unusually for these types of announcements, Republicans and Democrats are evenly split between pissed off and excited, for varying reasons.

  David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter and conservative commentator and columnist, lost his cool on Twitter last night upon hearing the first rumors of the Ryan pick.

  "How to explain a (hypothetical!) Ryan pick by so careful and cautious a man as Mitt Romney?" Frum wrote in multiple, back-to-back tweets.

  "Hypothesis 1) Like many Republicans, Romney has been genuinely radicalized since 2008... Hypothesis 2) Romney camp's internal polling shows he's not holding GOP base." He listed three more hypotheses and invited followers to list a sixth. "May I point out that... Obama supporters are cheering the pick?" he later noted.

  Mike Murphy, Republican strategist, Tweeted that "Paul Ryan is a star. I hope one day I will get to vote for him for President. But right now, in this election, he's the wrong choice for VP."

  Rachel Maddow claimed on her Twitter that "Paul Ryan is the one VP pick who can unite liberal and conservative America," with liberals excited at the prospect of running against a budget plan that runs all over the third rails of American politics and conservatives happy to finally have a campaign with right-wing bona fides.

  Even those reporters and commentators with an avowedly nonpartisan, objective view describe the Ryan pick as the most exciting, surprising, and unexpected turn in a so-far rather humdrum presidential race, at least compared to 2008's comparative religious revival of a campaign.

  But less than 24 hours into this vice presidential pick, it is highly uncertain whether or not the Republican Party's second surprise running mate pick in a row will turn out for the best.

  It is up to Romney to look presidential and up to Ryan to prove himself a competent economic pitbull for a (increasingly less) possible President Romney, whose attitude toward decision-making--coupled with Paul Ryan's vigorous love for policy, statistics, and the details of budgets and deficits and entitlement spending--looks likely to lead to a sort of President Romney - Chancellor Ryan situation, at least as far as Congressional relations go. 

  Watching this novel White House unfold would be more interesting, at least, than anything coming out of any Romney-Pawlenty or Romney-Portman administrations. Perhaps Paul Ryan was a decent pick after all. The fundamental question now is whether or not Romney has any chance of winning in the first place.

  About the author: Ian M. MacIsaac is a staff writer for the Capital City Free Press. He is a history major at Auburn University, and former co-editor of the AUMnibus, the official Auburn Montgomery student newspaper.

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