In The News
Dems salute Wisconsin’s gift to Obama, Paul Ryan
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted August 12, 2012
Mitt Romney’s choice Aug. 11 of US Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate may give him a bounce on cable news, but in the long haul to Nov. 6 it will focus the election on the true weaknesses and evasions of the GOP economic policies, of which Ryan is the mastermind, as well as laser-beaming the Democratic attack on the GOP ticket.
The Democrats can’t wait to get organized against this choice – they started releasing fact sheets, holding press conferences and launching video ads the day of the announcement.
The pick was intended to galvanize the right wing base, but amusingly it is actually Republicans who have mapped the road against Ryan.
Analyzing his effort to turn Medicare into a choice to buy health care on the private market via coupons, Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia joined several GOP colleagues in voting against it this spring for “trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.” Veteran and respected Bush speechwriter David Frum said this Ryan fostered economic approach meant spending “the next months explaining how and why shrinking Medicare after 2023 will create prosperity in 2013 . . . Wow, the job (of getting elected) just got harder.”
The harshest attacks may yet come from the tea party intended to be excited, once its diehards recall that in the Bush years Ryan represented the worst parts of the status quo he now criticizes – convincing stubborn conservative colleagues to vote for Bush’s bank bailout despite fierce opposition from their most stalwart economic naysayers.
Yes indeed, setting aside the inevitable Wisconsin pride when any native gets national political attention, this is a choice that sure helps people hone in on the real record and reasons to oppose the Republican ticket. Ryan’s record is almost a litany of what Romney doesn’t understand about American values.
On deep examination, Ryan turns from visionary to sincere economic naïf, sticking the GOP with the wrong path at a time when Europe is proving that his austerity approach to budgeting is a disaster. Much of his platform echoes the Bush years, with Ryan arguing he would do it better, but only if Romney had chosen Bush’s former economic director, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, could he have picked someone more closely allied to the worst of the GOP past.
MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews instantly described Ryan as still coming across as the college guy “who just read an Ayn Rand novel and believes everything in it.” Other pundits, even conservative ones, are calling Romney’s attempt to tilt far right “Manna from heaven for Obama.”
Reams of political campaign money can’t neutralize the parade of nonpartisan fiscal experts who confirm that Ryan’s economic plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade, putting the burden on 95% of the residents while giving tax breaks to the top 5%. It the sort of economic plan that makes everything that Obama did look intelligent, the exact reverse of the GOP intentions.
“The facts don’t work in Ryan’s favor,” a leader of AARP told me, “but worse he is relying on the selfishness of older citizens. Since he can’t touch the Social Security of people in their 60s, he’s counting on our feeling that if we have ours, we don’t mind sticking coupons rather than Social Security to those under 55. I think he underestimates our Americanism.” (Beyond that, factually, a lot of seniors and their families benefit from Medicaid, which Ryan also intends to reduce via coupon promotion.)
Clearly, the choice was a subtle embrace of the right-wing popularity of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with whom Ryan shares a media image as boyish brave scouts tackling traditional compromise approaches, laying down the hammer rather than negotiating.
Except that Walker’s approach even to his followers is largely unproven and quite disappointing. Republican school districts are coping with higher property taxes, swollen class sizes, loss of variety, loss of good teachers and handcuffs by Walker regulations that prevent their schools and communities from improving – and it’s getting worse. The kindest pronouncement is that the jury is still out, but that’s hardly enough to replace a president, particularly while Obama’s jury is coming in at growing nearly five million jobs in two years compared to the eight million that the Bush years and Ryan concept took away.
Wisconsin is also lagging its neighbors in job growth and economic reputation. Those twin failures should mean far more to voters than the boyish gee-whiz media image. Some of the sincerest people in the country are not the sharpest knives in the kitchen.
Ryan may have elevated in national attention but his selection instantly elevates his forthright Democratic opponent and turns Congressional District 1 into a horse race that Ryan could well lose even as Romney loses the presidential race.
Rob Zerban could hardly get ink time given the media curiosity on whether Ryan would emerge as the next big GOP leader, but now the reality is the VP choice will have to run around the country trying to explain Mitt, while pretending that he really cares about local issues – and Zerban is rising in attention.
It’s too late to replace Ryan but campaigning for his House seat while pretending he has a chance at the big house makes him look like a hypocrite or someone convinced he will lose one – while losing both taking his district for granted. It wasn’t much of swing district until the GOP stepped in to redistrict, swinging more territory to Milwaukee County and other areas dominated by senior citizens and blue collar workers. And boy, do they understand and dislike Ryan’s ideas on Medicare and Social Security.
That opens the door for the media to examine his violent support for outsourcing and his Obama-like ad in 2008 (to fend off a Democratic tide) criticizing Romney’s style of outsourcing. He may have to explain to a critical Janesville how he didn’t fight to keep the GM plant but was running around pushing a scheme to gamble Social Security funds on the stock market and to gut Medicare and Medicaid.
Those are big clay feet when the GOP was in control and he could have helped reduce the deficit or at least keep the surplus that Clinton left the GOP.
“He’s given us a megaphone,” said Zerban campaign organizers, suddenly inundated with requests for appearances, media interviews and forums. That’s somewhat ironic because Zerban, a small business owner himself as well as an elected local official, had been busy for months but largely ignored despite some memorable attacks on Ryan. Well, they’re noticing such statements now:
"Ryan is a root cause of many of the financial issues our country faces today,” says Zerban. “From supporting two unfunded wars, to dumping millions of senior citizens into the Medicare Part D ‘donut hole' while tying the hands of the government to negotiate prescription drug prices, and from fighting for subsidies for Big Oil that his family personally benefits from, to supporting the unfunded Bush tax cuts for his wealthiest campaign contributors, Paul Ryan's hypocrisy is astounding."
The vulnerabilities are enormous. Nation columnist John Nichols wondered aloud before the choice why Romney would even look at him, noting “Vice presidential nominees are supposed to help tickets, not hurt them . . . Ryan would be a burden not a booster.”
The other side to the argument is the choice of Ryan is atypical of cautious Romney and thus admirable. Though why such a departure unless he is worried about shoring up his right-wing base?
It is not quite as desperate an attempt to change the game as McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin, but it comes close given Ryan’s central role in a flawed approach to the economy that will be a tough sell to independent thinkers.
The only explanation is the belief that there is so much dislike of Obama that painting everything as a negative is what the GOP thinks the country wants, as opposed to the bipartisan personalities that once both Romney and Ryan made their bones on.
Ryan is personable but combatively ideological, so he has been caught frequently in outright lies. Media fact checkers labeled as wildly false his claims that Obama’s first two years raised discretionary spending 84%. To support his friend Walker’s attack on collective bargaining he earned “Pants on Fire” and Pinocchio ratings from the media by saying the protests in Madison were “riots -- it's like Cairo has moved to Madison these days."
Given Romney’s propensity for foot in mouth – starting with introducing Ryan as the “next president of the United States” – you would have thought his handlers would have looked for someone less prone to extremist statements. They are relying on Ryan’s experience at local retail politics. But this is a national stage that exposes more closely his behavior – and he is hardly a textbook of rhetorical nimbleness.
The field of attack is so deep for his opposition that they almost don’t need Emily’s List to detail the five ways the choice of Ryan will hurt women, such as defunding Planned Parenthood and cutting food stamps 18% for families under his economic plan. Nor the pundits pointing out that the GOP is now controlled at the top by two “children of privilege” who share little of the typical citizens’ climb upward – and both badly lack foreign policy experience.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, who has worked cordially with Ryan though they deeply disagree on politics, shrewdly noted that the pick “confirms that any hope of an Etch-a-Sketch switch of Romney back to the center will not take place.” Instead he has “embraced the Ryan economic approach and the top-down trickle-down policy of making middle class taxpayers pay for the rich to get richer.”
And mostly it reflects the central GOP campaign theme -- the hatred of anything Obama, modified only by conversational style. Ryan always pauses before he says scary things about America falling off a cliff in order to refer to the president as “a nice man but misguided.” Unintended self-description.