He started with that characteristic bumble, the clumsiness that some might regard as charming. This time, it was the remark about welcoming the next President of the United States to the podium. No, it wasn’t Mitt Romney about himself, but U.S. Rep Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the House GOP budget wonk and deeply suspicious about giving anybody but millionaires a break.
Vice Presidents have a habit of being mere appendages of the US political system, odd impedimenta of the White House. Their silence is often golden before an active president, and when they are engaged it is, as ever, only likely to cause more harm than good. Ryan has barely gotten a foot into the nomination, and we are already seeing the potential strips that may well be taken off the GOP in the fall.
Ryan’s fiscal plans are as unoriginal as any that involve incisions, cuts, hacking and gutting. “Entitlement programs” is something of a contradiction in terms. Stock standard conservatives should see them as insurance against those nasties they would like to keep off the streets and out of their homes. An indigent under caste might be money for jam for a state keen to keep costs down and a serf class simmering away, but it encourages revolt and decay. Taxes and “entitlements” keep the society civil – at least in part.
No matter – the Ryan agenda is one of ideological delusion. “Romney and Ryan share a conviction that our future will be brighter if we simply pass even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, dramatically shift health care costs from Medicare to seniors, and walk away from our national commitments to education, research and development, and new energy technology.” This is unnecessarily wordy, but it comes from an email drafted by senior Obama strategist David Axelrod, quoted in Politico (Aug 8). That is the Romney-Ryan compote, the bitter dish to be served to the American public.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, another bright spark of the GOP lunatic set, decided to endorse Ryan as “an outstanding choice as our country’s next vice president, and today’s announcement demonstrates Governor Romney’s commitment to returning fiscal sanity back to Washington, D.C.”
The selection is astonishingly insular, even by GOP standards. Many will profess ignorance of his credentials, and familiarity is bound to breed contempt. Indeed, President George H.W. Bush’s former speech writer Curt Smith went so far as to claim how “stunningly unimpressed” he was with the candidate. “In a year which the economy is terrible, and the election should be about Barack Obama, Romney has made the election a referendum on the Ryan budget” (Democrat and Chronicle, Aug 11).
Sanity is not a word that dovetails well with Santorum-speak, and Ryan’s selection may not, on its own accord, be moderate enough. Some states might well be conservative and be in the GOP constellation, but Ryan may well be a step too far. Local Republican candidates risk finding their hands tied. Chris Cilizza in The Washington Post (Aug 8) considered it a boon for the Democrats, and caught them salivating at the prospect of Ryan’s presence on the Romney ticket. “By putting Ryan on the ticket, Romney has handed House and Senate Democrats a golden opportunity to make downballot races a referendum on his budget proposal.”
Jonathan Martin, Jake Sherman and Maggie Haberman in Politico (Aug 8) pick up on the same theme of division in Republican ranks. Ryan is strong stuff, heavy liquor for the electorate. He is strong even for Romney, who has not been open about embracing Medicare cuts. Having the Ryan bull in the china shop is, however, a different proposition. It certainly signals what Romney has in mind – and there are those even on the Right who will not like it. Parallels are emerging – such as Ronald Reagan’s choice of Jack Kemp in 1980, in which supply-side economics reigned supreme.
The Ryan selection, whether it does pay dividends to Romney’s race, will at least show the GOP’s stance for the election. Ryan is an ideologue, a creature of Capitol Hill. The axes are being wielded, and welfare is set for the chop.
Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org