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Paul Ryan, the rock star, and the GOP's values

Posted 8/28/12
By Paul HeiseCongressman Paul Ryan has been drafted by the Romney campaign and his “Path to Prosperity’’ comes along for the ride. Because of this little attachment, Romney has to face the electorate with a proposal that ends Medicare as we …

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Paul Ryan, the rock star, and the GOP's values

Posted
By Paul Heise

Congressman Paul Ryan has been drafted by the Romney campaign and his “Path to Prosperity’’ comes along for the ride. Because of this little attachment, Romney has to face the electorate with a proposal that ends Medicare as we know it, cuts Social Security and the whole social safety net, and increases taxes to the working class while cutting taxes to the rich. That platform does not play very well to the middle, where this election is going to be won or lost.

The hard-core base of both parties applaud and think this is just the ticket to win the election. Ryan will shake things up, but we are likely to get a debate about specific spending and entitlements programs rather than about the alternate futures for America that both sides want. Money, not political values, will choose our future.

First, Ryan. Mitt Romney may be a “squishy conservative of expediency rather than authenticity.” And Ryan may be a “rock star . . . crisp, provocative . . . a rallying cry for the fiscal hawks,” but Ryan, especially, is more than that in this high-stakes campaign. He is, in fact, dangerous to both Obama and Romney and they should be very, very careful.

Ryan is not your run-of-the-mill politician. He may be untested and ambitious, but so was a Barack Obama. Ryan appears to share Romney’s expediency more than we suspected.

Ryan broadcast his devotion to the unscrupulous, grasping millionaire John Galt, the hero of Ayn Rand’s junk novel “Atlas Shrugged.’’ Ryan now claims that devotion to be an “urban legend” even though he made Rand required reading for his staff. It also became expedient to back off his 2010 more radical “Roadmap for America’s Future’’ after the New York Times called it “the most toxic political document ever.”

Ryan appears to be a natural campaigner. He is as glamorous as Sarah Palin, as boldly conservative as Michele Bachmann, as idea-burdened as Newt Gingrich, as harsh as Dick Cheney and as wonkish as, well, Paul Ryan. We don’t know yet what this will all add up to but  there were reasons he came late to Romney’s VP list. The next six weeks will tell us.

Until now the campaign has been how much and how well outside money is being spent. The campaign now segues to the reason for Ryan’s celebrity status and Romney’s choice: the “Path to Prosperity,’’ now shortened to the “Ryan Budget Plan.” All the pundits and advisers are now reading the plan. While they may be looking for gotcha points or conflicts between Ryan and Romney, they should be looking at who is buying what government spending.

Both Obama and Romney say they want to control the federal deficit and the national debt. They also claim that the nature of our society is in the balance. But they disagree on the amount and place of government spending. To the Republicans, the New Deal social safety net created a dependency society. To the Democrats, the concern for those in need transcends politics.

To confuse things further, the base and Ryan are conservative but Romney and his team are Republican. That is not at all the same thing, so there’s going to be tension. The conservative base, to whom the Ryan choice is directed, sees him as the guardian of all things conservative. These the the people who prefer defeat to compromise.

So, is Ryan, the “rock star” of the conservatives, a good fit with the “squishy” Romney? Well, Ryan did not go campaigning immediately. He spent time in Las Vegas with Sheldon Abelson and his Asian gambling billions. It wasn’t a “fundraiser;” it was a discussion of energy issues!

Obama and the Democrats are in much the same fix. There is an almost open warfare between the monied Democrats and the political liberals. While the president has done much, he has ignored the criminal pharmaceutical companies and financial sector who liberals see as the cause of the health care and financial crises. Obama has, thus, not yet reached those discontented groups that gave him his margin of victory last time. He has been campaigning to define Romney and has not adequately defined himself.

The choice of Ryan the rock star will certainly enliven the campaign, particularly in regard to the coming debate on the federal deficit and debt. Ryan leads those who think there is no more serious problem than out-of-control spending. His proposals to cut spending are ruthless and dehumanizing because they are made on the basis of money contributed and not our values.

Our society is more important than the debt, which our working class has been driven to think is the problem. Our debate should be not about spending but about power, the power of money to buy the spending in the federal budget.


Paul Heise, of Mount Gretna, is a professor emeritus of economics at Lebanon Valley College, Annville, and a former economist for the federal government.