I Read Everything About Paul Ryan So You Don’t Have To

Much ink was spilled this weekend about Paul Ryan. Here are the ten best observations I found:

1. This was Plan B for Romney.

Steve Kornacki:

The most important thing to know about Mitt Romney’s running-mate choice is this: It’s not the move he would have made if the campaign was going the way he hoped it would.

Plan A was to frame the election as Barack Obama vs. Somebody Else, and Mitt all but changed his name to Somebody Else. Beyond a few believe-in-America platitudes, the Romney campaign has been the anti-Obama campaign.

That strategy led to what Ezra Klein called a “policy gap” — not a gap between Obama’s policies and Romney’s policies, but

Obama has proposed policies. Mitt Romney hasn’t. … Romney’s offerings are more like simulacra of policy proposals. They look, from far away, like policy proposals. They exist on his Web site, under the heading of “Issues,” with subheads like “Tax” and “Health care.” But read closely, they are not policy proposals.

Klein gives many examples, including:

On financial regulation, Romney would ‘repeal Dodd-Frank and replace with streamlined, modern regulatory framework.’ That is literally his entire plan. Three years after a homegrown financial crisis wrecked the global economy, the likely Republican nominee for president would repeal the new regulatory architecture and replace it with … something.

Romney’s plan to “repeal and replace” ObamaCare is equally light on the “replace” part. The Romney website lists a lot of virtues his plan will have, but only hints at how it will achieve those virtues.

Until Saturday, everything about the Romney candidacy was fuzzy, even whether or not he supports RomneyCare. He bowed to all the conservative icons during the primary campaign, but his Massachusetts record pointed the other way, and Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom indicated that Romney’s primary commitments might be null and void after the convention:

I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch-A-Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.

In hindsight, the hole in that strategy is obvious: Not only did this looming betrayal make the base edgy, but Romney’s refusal to define himself let Obama define him as the slash-and-burn financier who destroyed American industry and walked away with all the money.

All summer, Romney has been helpless against the assault. Does he want to make women bear their rapists’ children? Does he want to raise taxes on the middle class? Did he pay any taxes himself? All possible responses would force Mitt to be Somebody, when he really wanted to be Somebody Else.

The results showed up immediately in Romney’s unfavorable rating.

Romney’s overall favorable/unfavorable score remains a net negative – a trait no other modern presumptive GOP presidential nominee (whether Bob Dole, George W. Bush or John McCain) has shared.

And eventually Obama started to pull away in the head-to-head polls.

Time for Plan B.

2. Ryan’s voting record is very, very conservative.

Nate Silver notes that Ryan’s Congressional voting record gives him a DW-Nominate rating “roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann”. Ryan may not be as physically wild-eyed as Bachmann, but ideologically they’re very similar. That makes him the most ideologically extreme VP candidate from Congress since at least 1900. (See chart below.)

Given Mitt’s fuzziness and Ryan’s high-contrast definition, Ryan’s positions are now the Romney-Ryan positions. The Etch-a-Sketch option is gone.

Those Romney-Ryan policies include privatizing Social Security, turning Medicare into a voucher program, and drastically cutting Medicaid. (Ryan hopes that some magic wand at the state level will create efficiencies, but the Urban Institute estimates some 14 million poor people would lose coverage.)

3. Ryan is both a Catholic and a follower of atheist author Ayn Rand.

He’s very anti-abortion but completely ignores the long series of socio-economic encyclicals that started with Pope Leo’s Rerum Novarum in 1891.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote letters criticizing the Ryan budget, which Ryan falsely rejected as not representing “all the Catholic bishops”.

Catholics have a real decision to make in this election. Are they single-issue anti-abortion voters? Or does the Sermon on the Mount still count for something?

4.The Ryan pick focuses the election on the deficit.

Matt Yglesias complains:

focusing attention on the big-picture disagreement between Democrats and Republicans about long-term fiscal policy means we won’t be focusing attention on what ought to be the most pressing economic policy issue of our time—mass unemployment and the tragic waste of human and economic potential it represents.

This cuts both ways. On the one hand, it plays into the popular misconception that lowering the deficit would create jobs. (Both Econ 101 and the experience of Britain say that cutting the deficit will destroy jobs.) That favors Romney.

On the other hand, Obama’s balanced plan for dealing with the long-term deficit is much more credible than the Ryan/Romney plan to cut rich people’s taxes even more, increase defense spending, and make up the difference by closing unspecified loopholes and cutting unspecified spending.

Ezra Klein explains how steep those cuts would have to be:

Ryan says that under his budget, everything the federal government does that is not Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security will be cut to less than 3.75 percent of GDP by 2050. That means defense, infrastructure, education, food safety, energy research, national parks, civil service, the FBI — all of it. Right now, that category of spending is 12.5 percent of GDP.

Another way to put 3.75% in context: Romney has already promised to put “a floor of 4 percent of GDP” under the defense budget alone.

5. Ryan’s reputation as a deficit hawk is undeserved.

Ezra Klein:

the real north star of Ryan’s policy record isn’t deficits or spending, though he often uses those concerns in service of his agenda. It’s radically reforming the way the federal government provides public services, usually by privatizing or devolving those public services away from the federal government.

More bluntly: The deficit is just an excuse to shrink government. If the deficit went away, Ryan would rebuild it by cutting rich people’s taxes and letting corporations skim a bigger profit out of public services.

Paul Krugman says Ryan’s budget-sausage contains $4.6 trillion in “mystery meat”: Like Romney, he claims his tax cuts for the rich will be balanced by closing loopholes, but he doesn’t identify any of those loopholes.

We’ve heard this song before: Republicans always claim their tax cuts won’t increase the deficit, but they always do. Reagan’s did, Bush’s did, and Romney’s will too.

They will try to claim that Ryan’s cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and every other non-defense program are necessary to save our children from the deficit. (MoveOn points out the ways in which the cuts harm our children — like making it harder for them to get an education if their parents aren’t rich.) The election probably hangs on making the public realize that those cuts have nothing to do with the deficit and will instead go straight into the pockets of the rich.

Early focus groups indicate that sale won’t be hard for Obama to make.

6. He’s not as smart as he thinks he is. 

Ryan has benefitted from what President Bush (in another context) called “the soft bigotry of low expectations”. The prevailing media prejudice is for “balance”. But the reality of the last few years has been a reasonable administration facing an opposition that abandoned anything resembling facts or logic in favor of pure obstructionism and open hatred.

How to balance that? Paul Krugman explains:

What these people need is reasonable Republicans. And if such creatures don’t exist, they have to invent them. Hence the elevation of Ryan — who is, in fact, a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style — to icon of fiscal responsibility and honest argument, despite the reality that his proposals are both fiscally irresponsible and quite dishonest.

I don’t think Ryan understands this process, so I expect him to be totally floored when the media starts covering him more rigorously and asking reasonable questions.

The Republican rank-and-file also don’t understand. They believe Ryan is really, really smart and expect him to wipe the floor with that doofus Joe Biden.

I think they’ll be surprised.

7. Ryan is a creature of Washington.

Wisconsin reporter John Nichols describes him as “Dick Cheney with nice hair”.

he is a guy who went to Washington as soon as he could, rooted himself in the establishment, got himself elected as soon as he could and became a major player

Joan Walsh offers him as an example of “the fakery at the heart of the Republican project today”.

The man who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn’t spent a day at economic risk in his entire life.

If you want to make an Ayn Rand character out of him, Wesley Mouch is a closer match than John Galt. Walsh continues:

guys like Ryan … somehow become the political face of the white working class when they never spent a day in that class in their life. Their only tether to it is their remarkable ability to tap into the economic anxiety of working class whites and steer it toward paranoia that their troubles are the fault of “other” people – the slackers and the moochers, Ayn Rand’s famous “parasites.”

8. He voted for all the budget-busting policies of the Bush administration.

According to the LA Times, Ryan voted for TARP, the unfunded Bush prescription drug benefit, the Iraq War, and (of course) all the Bush tax cuts.

Deficits only became a problem after Obama was elected

9. Obama owns foreign policy now.

Romney and Ryan look good posing in front of a mothballed battleship, but that’s the only qualification either brings to the job of Leader of the Free World. Meanwhile, Obama is the guy who finally got Bin Laden and ended the unpopular Iraq War.

Thomas Schaller observes that until now

at least one candidate on every GOP presidential ticket during the past half-century could boast at least some foreign policy, diplomatic or defense chops.

Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating comments:

Romney seems to be wagering that foreign policy will not be a major issue in the campaign.

10. Ryan would be the real power in a Romney administration. And if Romney loses, Ryan is already the front-runner for 2016.

When Romney introduced Ryan as “the next president of the United States” Steve Kornacki heard a Freudian slip:

while it will be the former Massachusetts governor who is sworn-in as the 45thpresident if the GOP ticket prevails this November, it will be Ryan who sets the new administration’s policy direction.

The New Republic’s Michael Kazin predicts Ryan would be more powerful than Dick Cheney.

Republicans have never before nominated someone for V.P. in hopes that he, and not the would-be President, would define the critical domestic policies of the entire federal government.

MSNBC’s Alex Wagner agrees:

Republicans envision an administration in which Romney has relegated
himself to a kind of head of state role … with Ryan as the actual head of government

Why? Well, Ryan has a philosophy and a real constituency in the Party and in Congress. He also carries the standard of the Koch brothers. Romney has none of that.

Already on Saturday, Nate Silver tweeted:

If Obama wins, most likely 2016 match-up is: Paul Ryan vs. Hillary Clinton. That would be pretty epic.

Kornacki describes Ryan 2016 as “the Right’s long game”.

But even if Ryan’s budget proves an albatross for Romney and the GOP ticket goes down, it’s not hard to see conservatives rationalizing away the defeat: The problem was Romney couldn’t sell the message – that’s why the next time we need Ryan at the top of the ticket!

After all, right-wingers still haven’t admitted that Palin was a liability to McCain. As Digby put it years ago: “Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.”

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  • Kim Cooper  On August 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Did you not mention that Romney wants a war with Iran just because no one else is talking about it this week? I think it’s an important point to know when evaluating whom one will vote for for Pres and VP. Why wouldn’t all those people who vote for Ron Paul just because he’s against war, consider voting for Obama just because the Vulture and the Voucher want war?

    • weeklysift  On August 18, 2012 at 6:55 am

      It’s so hard to tell when Romney “wants” something and when he’s just pandering. He went to Israel and told them he would “respect” their attack on Iran if they found it necessary. But if I were an Israeli I wouldn’t take that to the bank.

      A better reason to vote against Romney, IMHO, is precisely that there’s no telling what he really thinks or what he’ll really do.


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