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Two White Men Who Like to Cut Things: On Romney’s Nomination of Paul Ryan

| August 11, 2012

Mitt Romney finds his John Galt.

Mitt Romney has picked Paul Ryan, the seven-term Wisconsin congressman, born during the first Nixon administration, and not old enough to have voted for either Ronald Reagan or the first Bush. It is a puzzling choice, more calculated than inspiring, more cautious than bold, and in some respects, just as strategically faulty as John McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive In Ryan, Romney found the only congressional Republican who’s produced the semblance of an alternative to Obama’s economic and health care plans. But he’s also found a mirror of himself. No one will accuse Ryan of being compassionate, generous, warm or particularly caring, qualities Romney lacks, and needs, if he’s going to make inroads with women and middle class voters who so far mistrust him. Ryan is friendliest than Romney, but friendliness to colleagues and reporters isn’t the same thing as connecting with voters beyond Wisconsin (where he has been successful enough to win six of his seven elections with more than 60 percent of the vote).

Still, Ryan doesn’t guarantee Romney Wisconsin, a battleground state with 10 electoral votes that’s nevertheless not crucial to either candidate’s path to victory. The states most in play are Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, where Ryan’s appointment doesn’t look like a vote-swinger: in Ohio and Pennsylvania, his tax-cutting and war on anti-poverty programs will be more alienating than attractive. In Florida, he’s a gift to the Obama campaign, which now only has to lay out the Ryan plan for Medicare to turn even a few tea party drinkers into latter-day Obama disciples.

Most of all, the Ryan nomination at first appears to be the anti-Palin nomination: Romney did not want to risk handing hysterics to the media. He’s succeeded, though whether Ryan knows more than Palin about Russia is still to be determined. Unlike Palin, Ryan is well spoken. Unlike Palin, he’s nowhere near rabid. Where Palin projected an aggressive sort of anti-intellectual populism, Ryan projects brain power. He’s not reality-show material.  He reads. But the media focus of the Romney-Ryan ticket will be on Ryan’s economic plan, which—in another puzzle of this nomination—happens to upstage Romney’s own, which has so far been virtually non-existent except in vague, nostalgic outlines for Reagan-era rhetoric.  In that sense, Romney is making the same mistake McCain did: he’s picked someone who will take the focus away from him. Ryan will do so quite differently from Palin. But he can still be more of a distractive liability than a centering force: Romney needed a jolt, an earthy, believable, sympathetic running mate who can help overcome Obama’s likability. He’s not getting that in Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s backstory is compelling enough: Irish stock, hard-working Midwestern family, dad dying early (Ryan found him dead in his bed one morning), grandmother dying of Alzheimer’s (Ryan cared for her), but soon after college it was all career politics, starting with an internship in the office of former Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten, then writing speeches for Jack Kemp, who was Bob Dole’s running mate in the forgotten race of 1996, then his run for the House in 1997. In 2004, he was George W. Bush’s point man on Social Security privatization.

Ironically, Ryan went to college thanks to his widowed mother’s Social Security survivor’s benefits. The privatization scheme was one of the big disasters of the second Bush term, though it had the benefit of being lost among many, many other disasters, shielding Ryan from embarrassment. Had Social Security been even partly privatized by then, would have wiped out whatever savings millions of retirees might have been depending on, forcing the government to make up enormous losses. The alternative was the existing system: Social Security is the only large government program running a surplus, without which the government would not as easily have financed its operations, since it has been freely borrowing from the Social Security trust fund since the 1990s. One point should not be lost: Ryan’s judgment about his plans viability was very poor. He appears not to have learned much from it: “The Administration did a bad job of selling it,” is how he still explains it (as he did to The New Yorker).

Yet Ryan’s strength, we are told, is in his ideas. He does have a few—a rarity in his party these days, where the word “no” tends to be the sum total of all philosophies. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose,” Ryan told the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. So while it’s true that conservative think tanks, politicians and columnists have seized on Ryan’s budget plan with feverish enthusiasm, it’s not necessarily because of the brilliance if the plan. It’s because it’s the only alternative Republicans have managed. It shines by default in a universe of dark matter.

Ryan would cut more than $5 trillion from the budget over 10 years. Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps would be eliminated as we now know them, and replaced with more limited block-grant type, or voucher, programs, as opposed to entitlements. (It’s why Paul Krugman calls the Ryan plan “a fraud” and “a piece of mean-spirited junk.”)

Ryan would also eliminate six income tax brackets and replace them with just two. He would cut the top tax rate of 35 percent (itself reduced from the Clinton-era rate of just over 39 percent) to 25 percent, with the bottom bracket’s rate set at 10 percent. The corporate tax rate would be cut from 35 percent to 25 percent. To pay for it all, Ryan says he would eliminate loopholes and tax breaks. But he’s  refused to spell out the loopholes and tax breaks he would eliminate to make up the enormous loss in revenue. Two of those tax breaks, for example, bear eliminating, and would, in fact, save hundreds of billions of dollars: the mortgage-interest deduction (about $80 billion a year) and the tax credit afforded employee-provided health care (about $230 billion). But Ryan is not about to float those proposals in the middle of an election. And there are no other major proposals that would generate savings of that size.

Ryan’s plan offers alternatives. But they’re not original alternatives. And they’re not coherent, if by coherence one expects numbers to add up. They’re a combination of two previous presidents’ ideas recast for what would be the third time as the way out of debt. It hasn’t worked before. There’s no reason to think it would work now.

Supply-side economics—the notion that cutting taxes would spur growth enough to generate more tax revenue—was first tried by Ronald Reagan. It very quickly turned the United States from a creditor nation into a debtor nation. Reagan just as quickly racked up more deficits in his two terms than all previous presidents combined. But that’s the Ryan program: cut taxes.

Ryan’s health care alternative isn’t original, either. He would scrap Obama’s reforms, including three of its centerpieces: the prohibition against insurers’ booting off an individual who becomes too sick and the prohibition against insurers using pre-existing conditions to keep an individual from getting health care. He would eliminate the insurance mandate, requiring that every American carry insurance. He would instead provide a tax credit to people buying insurance. That was the plan John McCain proposed when he ran for president four years ago: a $5,000 tax credit to every individual buying insurance. Such a credit, of course, would not cover more than the most bare-bones insurance plan.

The third pillar of Ryan’s fiscal conservatism is his overhaul of Medicare. It’s not quite an overhaul, which suggests reforming a system to make it better. It’s privatization. He would turn Medicare into a voucher program. The first version of that proposal provoked such an uproar that Ryan retreated and reworked it, so that the existing Medicare system would not be entirely eliminated. He would keep it as an option. But it would be a very costly option—if that’s what beneficiaries chose to hold on to. In other words, he would make it difficult for all but the richest beneficiaries to stick with it. That’s not the sort of plan that gives elderly Floridians their second wind.

Ryan’s intellectual north pole is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a cinderblock of a book that showcases Rand’s ability to write English as if it were a hammer-throw competition (and to remind us why Rand is the Sarah Palin translation of Nietzsche). It’s fabulous reading in adolescence. It’s a little worrisome when grown-ups don’t see beyond it. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told the Atlas Society named for Rand. “The fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

Rand was a devout atheist. Ryan is a devout Catholic, though he’s not made friends among prominent Catholics: “We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students,” a letter to Ryan signed by the Georgetown University faculty read, “if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – ‘a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.’ Catholic bishops recently wrote that ‘the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.’ In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

Who is John Galt? For Mitt Romney, it’s Paul Ryan, the alliterative not to an “RR” ticket (think Ronald Reagan), with Rand as a permanent sub-R. But there’s a cautionary tale in Ryan’s Rand worship, not quite hinted at in the book itself, where nothing is a hint when it can be better spelled out with a sledge-hammer: “But far in the distance, on the edge of the earth, a small flame was waving in the wind. It seemed to be calling and waiting for the words John Galt was now to pronounce. ‘The road is cleared,’ said Galt. ‘We are going back to the world.’ He raised his hand—and over the desolate earth, he traced in space the sign of the dollar.”

Also sprach Paul Ryan.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here.

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38 Responses for “Two White Men Who Like to Cut Things: On Romney’s Nomination of Paul Ryan”

  1. Gage says:

    Pierre, this is an excellent piece. Very informative and very well written.

    I also enjoyed the Biden-esque introduction this morning when Romney introduced Ryan as “the next President of The United States”. With the debate already swirling as to which VP is more suited to run the country, I pose the question, is Romney more capable of running the country than Joe Biden? I think his recent trip to Europe showed us the answer is a big fat NO.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Lonewolf says:

    OMG…a nightmare of a ticket…the corporate raiding, millionaire, cult member coupled with the guy who wants to privatize Social Security and get rid of Medicare.

    • Anonymous says:

      Let’s face it, there is no significant difference between the two major candidates or the two major parties. They are like Bud and But Light, both will leave us with a hangover. The fact is we as a nation are already broke and headed towards bankruptcy just like Greece and Spain and for the same reasons. Socialism only works until it runs out of other people’s money. The only party with any good or workable ideas is the Libertarian party. Why do we not hear much about their candidate, Gary Johnson? Because the corporations have not been able to purchase them yet like they have the Democratic and the Republican parties. Only Sheeple will vote for “Obamney”, thinking people will vote Libertarian.

    • Magnolia says:

      Your guy is the one who just cut $700 million from medicare, my friend.

  3. question says:

    Wow…it’s Christmas in August for the President Obama…thank you for the lovely gift of the the guy who pushed Grandma off the cliff…as the Republican/Tea Party’s V.P. Candidate.

    Who wouldn’t pick someone who’s plan is:
    Sorry next gen seniors…you’ll take your voucher and like it…us millionaires, billionaires, oil, wall street, corporations are people CEOs need that dough in their Swiss/off shore secret bank accounts. Suckers!

  4. palmcoaster says:

    Great editorial Pierre!

  5. Clint says:

    Gee…Decisions,decisions. Do I vote for the black atheist pot smoking, cocaine snorting ,no birth certificate, liberal kenyan who will take America to the final level of destruction. Or do I vote the white morman millionaire who will increase spending for the military and bring jobs back to America. Thats a real hard choice !!!

  6. Jim R says:

    All part of the plan to give Obama a second term. When he begins to nibble away at social security and other social programs he can say how he has no other choice and how the big bad Republicans would have been much worse. The Globalist, Corporate, Militaristic agenda will continue with Obama gleefully in charge, No matter who wins that”s what we’re going to get.

  7. john stewart says:

    I was just wondering if you wrote an article on Pres obama when he selected his running mate…Did you say A black man and and a white man .. That want to socialize our country? I doubt it..I thought news reporting was suppose to be truth telling not opinions. You should be ashamed of your self. But then again you are a reporter..anything to grab a headline..truth or not!

  8. another voice says:

    This is like Rick Scott on steroids.

    Is it REALLY ok with some of you that anyone born after 1957 will never get back what they paid into SS and Medicare, and that those people will start dropping like flies for lack of decent, basic medical care? Is it really ok with some of you that health insurance companies get to continue weaseling out of paying claims based on “pre-existing conditions”? Is it really ok with some of you that these corporate pigs at the national trough should not otherwise be regulated?

    Anyone voting for this clown ticket so they don’t have to vote for that Not-White Guy is voting to screw their friends, their neighbors, their families and themselves.

  9. Dorothea says:

    @john stewart

    I guess you didn’t notice that the article is an opinion piece by Pierre Tristam.

  10. pamala zill says:

    There are so many dearly devout Catholics, sad to see them so disrespected. Atlas Shrugged Is one book that as I child I found fascinating. And scary. Having deep roots in Wisconsin, I know Paul Ryan is just another player, I’m afraid. Real politics is just the Gay Mob. They hate women, people having food, transportation, health are. Psychotics.

  11. Sea dog says:

    If we add the 50,000 deaths due to lack of health care to it the manifold other vital social services that the Ryan Budget would eliminate, we have what can only be described as mass murder on an appalling scale, made all the more reprehensible by the grotesque self righteousness with which Republicans routinely annoint themselves.

  12. snapperhead says:

    I was wondering what Eddie Munster was up to since they canceled the show.

  13. another voice says:

    It’s opinion that is based in facts. All the petulant foot-stomping by the Masochists for Mitt isn’t going to change that.

  14. tbird says:

    Best choice ever. They will save our country.

  15. Out of curiosity says:

    I must admit I always get a good chuckle when I see those “Who is John Galt” stickers…..

  16. Samuel Smith says:

    Hahaha, this ticket is so ridiculous it has to win. The only thing better would be a palin/bachmann ticket.

  17. question says:

    Had my share of issues posting a photo. Tad easier if you right click on photo, go to Properties, then Address (URL). Copy and paste that URL into message. It’s shorter & you post only the photo, not the website. Hope this helps.

  18. Dorothea says:

    @ Samuel Smith

    Paul Ryan is like Palin with a penis and Romney is a wannabe Bachmann without her testicles. The Tea party’s dream team.

  19. sam8131 says:

    “Two white men”? Grasping the race card already? Why the race label?

  20. another voice says:

    Want to eliminate Medicare for your elders? Vote Romney/Ryan! Want to see the richest pay less than one percent in taxes while you and your family watch your tax burden increase–even AFTER Medicare is gutted? Vote Romney/Ryan.

    Want to see health insurers continue to invent “pre-existing conditions” so they don’t have to pay claims when you are sick? Vote Romney/Ryan! Get sick? Just drop dead! You’re nothing, a nobody, you’re not One of Them. You’re just taking up valuable space and breathing valuable oxygen. How DARE you do such a thing?

    Yes, Flagler County, the choice is clear–every gain made for the vast majority of our citizens in this country since World War II is on the chopping block for these clowns except for THEIR gains. Yours can go to hell and so can you if you vote Romney/Ryan.

  21. palmcoaster says:

    Gore picked Lieberman, McCain picked Palin and now Romney picks Ryan…I can easily see the results..
    Is something like the last nail in his coffin.

  22. JL says:

    I’ve been a Republican all my life. Until now. I will not vote for this “team”. Yes, it is possible to be worse off than we are now. And if you doubt that, vote for these two. The Republican ticket is going so far to the right, I don’t know where they are anymore. But I know I don’t want to go where they are headed.

  23. Outsider says:

    With Ryan, we get someone who has a real understanding of the budget problems this country faces. He is willing to take the conversation where the current cowards will not. Remember, Obama created the Bowles-Simpson commission, and promptly ignored their recommendations. The Democratic controlled Senate hasn’t offered up a budget in three years; those are some real problem solvers we got there. Oh, and you are correct Pierre, we started borrowing (stealing, as they’re not paying it back) from social security in the ’90’s; where do you think Clinton’s “surpluses” came from? So go ahead and get it over with now: “Paul Ryan is going to throw women and children over the cliff,” so we can get to the tough, adult work of fixing or problems, otherwise we’re all going over the cliff in the Obama bus.

  24. Karma says:

    A$16 trillion debt which equals about $51,000 per person in this country. Yet everyone is worried about what free government service may go away or pay for themselves. With 50% of this country paying no taxes and the top 10% paying 70% makes wonder what the definition of fair is in 2012. When we hit the fiscal cliff of this country($3 billion a day on interest alone), I wonder if people will still worry about their false claims on the war on woman or Betty Ledbetter act.

  25. another voice says:

    No, we’re not in hell, Magnolia. Right now, your health insurance company cannot deny you for a pre-existing condition anymore. Repealing the Affordable Care Act means your health insurance company can just make up reasons to not pay your claims. Is that what you want?

  26. another voice says:

    With Ryan you get a hypocrite who collected Social Security death benefits, but he wants to take that same ability away from you. How can anyone willfully deny this?

    It’s pathetic what hatred has done to some of you, you’re not even thinking straight. Go ahead, vote against your own interests just like the time you were stupid enough to vote for Rick Scott.

  27. Ben Dover says:

    The worst part of this is, they have another money hungry Governor in office here in Fl , He was probably here in St Augustine the other day to pay off the people that the Bush clan did to make the Democratic votes vanish , it was no coincidence that Jeb just happened to be the Gov at that time , just like Scott being where he is now is not. Talk about your systematic fleecing of a nation ,it totally blows my mind that they are going to try and get away with this again, and even more ,that people are ignorant or in denial to what is going on here.

    Bush got away with it twice, he got away with alot of things , like lying his way into a war that crippled this countries economy , not to mention killing and maiming thousands of young men and women. If these crooks get into office , they will start a war with Iran as soon as they can get away with it , they don t care what it will do to our struggling economy or how many people will die and families destroyed , they make big bucks on wars , Bush and Cheney were linked to the private military contractors that were being paid to rebuild everything they blew up over there, it was all about making them richer. And just like McCain was singing bomb bomb Iran to the Beach Boys Barbara Ann song , Romney , Ryan , and Scott ,along with the rest of their tax evading ilk, will be singing and dancing their way into that war , and then to their offshore bank accounts. Wake up people , don t let these criminals send your children off to die in a foreign country, while they make billions on their blood, and slice and dice every program you worked your entire life to secure for you and yours.

  28. pamala zill says:

    Goodnesss…Gracious ..oodles. of over cooked noodles! 24% of people. Here voted? Hmmmm. I know they. Care..overworked …intimidated? ?? I find it ironic a d sad. The majority of people. In LA FLORDA Are not wealthy enough. To be REPUBLICAN’S!. WE TH PEOPLE. WILL WIN AND THRIVE BY BEING ISSUE ORIENTED. PIERRE. YOU HAVE SUCH FINE…COURAGE ..TALENT

  29. John Boy says:

    Here is a site that gives the real low down on the Mormons, written by Mormons for both Mormons and Christians. This will be eye opening and will show why it’s a cult and a criminal organization.

  30. Outsider says:

    The problem, another voice, with people voting in their own interests is that it’s bankrupting the country…and destroying opportunity for their own children.

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