Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate hit us here in Wisconsin especially hard. We’d barely had time to lick our wounds from the defeat that Scott Walker handed us in the recall when we had to contend with reactionary native son Ryan. You could almost hear the collective gasp coming from the mouths of a million Wisconsin progressives.
We understand only too well that the far right of the business class in America likes the aw-shucks, basset-eyed, folksy Wisconsin frontmen. It’s easier for politicians like Walker and Ryan to make the billionaire’s case than it is for the Koch brothers or Sheldon Adelson themselves.
Ryan is a good politician. Unlike Romney, he has decent people skills, and because Wisconsin is such a divided state, he’s had to hone the art of retail politics. It may appear as though someone broke into Ryan’s home and stole all of his ties and then went into his cabinet and ran away with all his sharp razors, but it’s a cultivated style. We’re supposed to believe he’s a man of the people, even though he himself is a millionaire.
And in today’s Republican Party, the millionaires do the bidding of the billionaires. That’s why Ryan, just three days after getting the nod from Romney, jetted out to Las Vegas. He didn’t go there to play the slots or enter a Texas Hold ’Em tournament. He went there to bounce on Sheldon Adelson’s knee. The casino owner, after all, has vowed to spend upwards of $100 million to defeat Obama.
Ryan is an Olympic knee-bouncer. He has spent much of his career ingratiating himself to the Koch brothers. (And Romney himself held a fundraiser at one of their mansions in New York this summer.)
The Romney-Ryan ticket is but a mask for the Koch-Adelson ticket.
As soon as he bounded onto the stage as the presumptive VP nominee, Ryan took it upon himself to defend Romney’s controversial career at Bain Capital. Ryan hailed Romney’s “private sector success,” saying: “I’m proud to stand with a man who understands what it takes to foster job creation in our economy.”
Never mind that Romney destroyed a lot of jobs at Bain Capital. For Ryan, there is nothing wrong with being a “vulture capitalist,” as Newt Gingrich called Romney during the primaries. Ryan, the disciple of Ayn Rand, actually admires Romney’s dihedral wings.
Ryan may be “a decent man,” as President Obama has vouched for him. (They are all, all “decent men.”) But Ryan’s policies are indecent.
None more so than his insistence that a woman be prohibited from having an abortion if a rapist impregnates her.
Ryan’s economic policies are also callous. He wants to cut taxes on the rich and corporations, while gouging programs like food stamps and Pell Grants that help the poor.
Ryan is hailed by fellow Republicans as a kind of economic whiz kid. But he’d have trouble passing his econ boards. For instance, he blames FDR for making the Depression worse, when, in actuality, FDR reduced unemployment from 25 percent to 10 percent. Ryan believes in voodoo economics—the theory that if you just cut taxes on the rich and corporations, the economy will somehow take off all on its own. Balancing the budget is hard to pull off when he’s opening the Treasury’s vaults to the rich; Ryan’s plan would leave the budget in deficit for the next twenty-eight years, even with his savage cuts to domestic social programs.
That’s where he’s made his name, though. He has referred to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as elements of a “collectivist system,” and he is intent on destroying them. He wants to partially privatize Social Security so that Wall Street investment houses can reap their rewards. He also wants to replace Medicare with a voucher system for the private insurance companies. This would end up costing seniors who come on board for Medicare a decade from now an additional $6,400 a year. As for Medicaid, which serves tens of millions of poor and disabled Americans, Ryan would turn it into a block grant to the states, with no restriction on how they spend the money. So if they want to toss the poor and the disabled off their rolls, out they go.
Just look at how backward this guy is. He not only wants to repeal LBJ’s Great Society (which gave us Medicare and Medicaid). And he not only wants to repeal FDR’s New Deal (which codified the right to organize, and gave us the minimum wage, and instituted unemployment insurance for the first time, and provided us with Social Security).
He also wants to repeal the Progressive Era.
Earlier this year, my colleague Ruth Conniff heard Paul Ryan say, at a Milwaukee event sponsored by the Koch Brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity, “The battle between conservatives and progressives is coming to a crescendo this year.” He was referring to the recall of Scott Walker (though he may have had the upcoming Presidential race in mind).
This offensive against progressivism is nothing new for Ryan, as our friend John Nichols noted in The Nation. Nichols quoted Ryan back in 2010 telling Glenn Beck, “What I’ve been trying to do is indict the entire vision of progressivism. . . . It’s really important to flush progressives out into the field of open debate—so people can actually see what this ideology means and where it’s going to lead us and how it attacks the American idea.”
Well, let’s see what this ideology means.
Progressivism, after all, brought us women’s suffrage, legislation to outlaw lynching, an end to child labor, the direct election of Senators, and the national park system. What really rankles Ryan is that the Progressives also succeeded in enacting the first serious regulations on corporate power.
He wants to roll the clock all the way back. He wants to party like it’s 1899.
On foreign policy, Ryan is a neocon in training. With no credentials in this crucial area to speak of, he’s been getting tutorials from neocon stalwarts like Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra infamy and Fred Kagan, who cheerleaded for the Iraq War, notes the Daily Beast. Not as callow as Sarah Palin, Ryan is nevertheless woefully unprepared to handle the challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Romney was pulling a fast one when he said that if something awful should happen, Ryan would be able to step right in.
Romney, too, is surrounding himself with the neocon old guard, so you can expect a U.S. bombing of Iran if he’s elected. (But let’s not kid ourselves here: The difference between Romney and Obama on this issue could be a matter of months, with Romney bombing Iran in February versus Obama who might bomb it in May.)
In any event, Romney didn’t choose Ryan because he was the most prepared person to become President if calamity strikes. No, he chose him to placate the rightwing base, to bring Wisconsin into play, and to push the ideology of untrammeled capitalism.
It is the aggressiveness of the choice that strikes me above all. What we’ve learned in Wisconsin lately (and what we all should have learned from the stolen election of 2000) is that the candidates and the ground troops of the far right don’t back down. They—and their paymasters—play for keeps; they are true believers. They go for it all. They will do whatever it takes to win. That’s what the voter I.D. hurdles are all about.
As maximalists, they understand that by pushing and pushing their most extreme positions, they gain by shifting the debate further and further to the right. Unless Obama smashes the Ryan approach head on, Ryan will be a winner for the rightwing, a winner for Adelson and the Koch brothers, and a winner for Wall Street—whether he helps Romney get to the White House or not.