Since Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running-mate on Saturday, right wing pundits have done their best to frame his pick as a “bold” choice. In fact, it appears to have been a choice born of the dawning realization at Romney’s high command, that his political situation was becoming increasingly desperate.
And the notion that Ryan himself is a “bold visionary” is nothing more than sheer fantasy – unless, of course, your “vision” of the future is the “Gilded Age”.
Before the announcement, conventional wisdom held that Romney would make a safe, boring choice for Vice President – somebody like Tim Pawlenty or Rob Portman. The thought was that he would be cautious, both because he is, by nature, a cautious kind of guy – and because he was doing well enough that he didn’t want to make the a rash move that could blow up the way McCain’s decision to enlist Sarah Palin as his running mate exploded four years ago.
But let’s face it, Romney was having a terrible summer. According to Nate Silver’s 538.com – the most sophisticated forecasting model around – Romney’s chance of winning this fall had dropped to under 30%. His Las Vegas odds – and odds on the Intrade political market – weren’t much better.
Romney’s foreign trip was a disaster. As much as anything it demonstrated that he lacks the most important single trait of successful political leaders: empathy. Romney seems constitutionally incapable of putting himself in other people’s shoes. He launched his expedition to Europe and Israel to demonstrate that he was a capable statesman, and looked instead like a bull in a china closet – insulting everyone in sight. Worse yet he looked out of his depth – like a student who was allowed to create his own SAT test and still failed to pass. Or, as former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put it – he looked like a guy who struck out at T-Ball.
His refusal to release his tax returns has continued to focus attention on Romney’s wealth – and the fact that in the one full year of returns he has opened to public scrutiny, he paid only a 13.9% effective tax rate makes it look like he plays by a different set of rules than ordinary mortals. Matters got worse when the a non-partisan Brookings Institute Study found that his tax “reform” plan would increase the taxes of 95% of Americans, and give him – and millionaires like him – hundreds of thousands of additional tax breaks.
Romney’s history of outsourcing American jobs, his record at Bain Capital, his Swiss Bank Accounts and cash in the Caymans, have all begun to convince persuadable voters that he just isn’t on their side. And it has become apparent that the more voters learn about his record as Governor of Massachusetts – 47th out of 50 in job creation – his claims to be an effective job creator were just so much hot air.
And finally there was the indisputable fact that Romney seems incapable of relating to ordinary Americans and their lives (e.g. “corporations are people too”, “Ann drives two Cadillacs”, “I love firing people”, etc.).
That’s not to say that Romney doesn’t still have a lot of chips on his side of the table. The long recovery from the Great Recession – which was, of course, caused by precisely the same policies that Romney would like to revive – presents a headwind for President Obama. And that headwind has been amplified by Republicans in Congress who have intentionally sabotaged the American economy for their own political advantage -- doing everything in their power to prevent passage of the infrastructure and jobs programs that independent analysts say would have created at least another million jobs.
And, of course, there is the advantage bestowed by the unprecedented tsunami of money with which multi- millionaires like the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson hope to buy the outcome of the election.
In fact, a good case can be made that Romney still has a pretty good chance of beating the odds in November. But the Romney campaign – and its super wealthy right wing supporters -- were starting to panic. And the forces that wanted to bet the ranch on a real, radical right-wing take over of American government used that panic to successfully promote their choice of most right wing Vice Presidential candidate since 1900. They convinced the campaign high command to double down on the view that this election is ultimately about mobilizing their base – and, they argued no one could do that better than Paul Ryan.
Ryan’s choice must have been controversial among Romney’s advisors. Medicare is enormously popular in America – especially among senior citizens who make up a disproportionate percentage of the vote in swing states like Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada. Ryan is – after all – the leader of the movement that no kidding around, wants to abolish Medicare as we know it. Presumably they believe that they can spend enough to confuse older voters into believing something different. Don’t bet on it.
And the leaders of the Republican National Congressional Committee must be furious. The choice of Ryan will nationalize the race for Congress and bring new focus on the dominant theme of many critical house races: Medicare, Medicare, Medicare. It will also, allow President Obama to run against the physical embodiment of the obstructionist Republican Congress that has about a 15% approval rating. It will make it easy for the Obama team to make the politically toxic Ryan budget a centerpiece of the race. And, finally, perhaps most important, it virtually guarantees that the race will ultimately be viewed by many voters as a choice not simply a referendum on Obama’s performance or the economy.
But one thing is clear. By choosing Ryan, Romney proved once and for all, that if he wins, right wing strategist Grover Norquist will have what he says wants: a President who has enough digits to sign whatever the Tea Party gang in Congress passes – a guy with no core values of his own who is perfectly willing to be led around by a ring in his nose to do whatever his right wing backers and the passionate partisans of the radical Tea Party in Congress demand of him.
Romney’s choice of Ryan proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that Mitt Romney will never revert to his “moderate” former self if he were elected President. He, Paul Ryan, the Tea Party and his billionaire contributors will try to fundamentally transform America into a plutocracy that is of, by and for a tiny number of very wealthy families.
And the notion that Paul Ryan is a “bold visionary” – as his book “Young Guns” would have us believe -- is simply laughable.
Is it “bold” to abolish Medicare, convert it into a voucher program, and raise the annual out of pocket health care spending of a senior citizen making $14,000 or $15,000 a year by $4,000 – just so you can give hundreds of thousands of dollars of additional tax breaks to the wealthiest people in America? Outrageous, but not “bold” – unless you think that it’s “bold” for a street thug to steal a senior citizen’s purse – or a juice loan operator to prey on low income customers who are desperate for credit.
Robinhood was bold. “Romneyhood” is not. “Romneyhood” is about the strong victimizing the weak. That’s not “bold”; that’s brazen.
And if you think abolishing Medicare is “visionary”, think again. Republicans have been trying to get rid of Medicare since they opposed its passage in 1965. It was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who said he hoped it would “wither on the vine” two decades ago.
Paul Ryan’s plan does not represent the future. He represents the values and policies of the robber barons of the late 19th century. He wants to go back to the discredited idea that tax cuts for the rich will trickle down to the rest of us – to the notion that we should allow the Wall Street Banks to run wild – ideas that caused the greatest financial collapse in 60 years and threatened the very existence of the American middle class. Ryan and Romney are not “bold visionaries” – they are the “Go Back Team” that wants to return us to the warmed over, failed policies of the past.
And Ryan represents something even worse. Romney is an unprincipled, willing vessel for any policy or position that will help him succeed – in business or in politics. Ryan is a true believer. He is a devotee of the radical libertarian philosophy that believes the highest value is selfishness – that greed is good – that society is better off, if first and foremost, we all look out for ourselves regardless of the consequences for everyone else.
Over the weekend, the American Values Network put out a video and web site that demonstrates graphically the philosophy of the “visionary” Paul Ryan. It includes footage of Paul Ryan praising the work of philosopher, author and libertarian icon, Ayn Rand, who died several years ago.
Ryan says that “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job explaining the morality of capitalism, the morality of individualism…..If Ayn Rand were here today, I think she would do a great job in showing us just how wrong what government is doing, is.”
That footage follows excerpts from a famous Mike Wallace interview of Rand.
In the Wallace interview, he asked Rand:
“Christ, and every other important moral leader in man’s history, has taught us that we should love one another. Why then is this kind of love, in your mind, immoral?”
Rand responds, “It is immoral if it is placed above one’s own self.”
Ayn Rand says:
“What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty.”
“You love only those who deserve it.”
“Nobody has ever given a reason why man should be his brothers’ keeper.”
In his interview, Wallace asks Rand: “You are out to destroy almost every edifice in contemporary American life – our Judeo-Christian religion, our modified government-regulated capitalism, rule by the majority will. Other reviewers say that you scorn churches and the concept of God – are they accurate criticisms?”
Rand responds, “yes.”
Barack Obama and most Americans believe that we’re all in this together. Paul Ryan and his sponsor Mitt Romney believe we’re all in this alone.
Barack Obama and most Americans believe we are our brother and sister’s keepers. Most Americans believe that commitment to others, and devotion to our families, our community, our nation and to all of human kind, define what we mean by right and wrong. Most Americans believe that we will succeed or fail together as a nation. Most Americans believe in the military ethic that you never leave anyone behind.
Ryan and Romney believe that one’s highest calling is his own success – no matter what the consequence for anyone else.
Those are exactly the values manifest in the stories of the workers who lost their jobs, their health insurance, and their pensions because Romney and his fellow investors at Bain Capital bought their companies, loaded them with debt, bled them dry to pay their fees and left them in bankruptcy while they walked away with millions.
They are the same values that lead Romney and Ryan to propose abolishing Medicare in order to fund additional tax breaks for themselves and the top 2% of the population.
Romney’s choice of Ryan is not bold at all, but it makes the choice facing America this fall crystal clear.
The election this fall is the most important single battle for the heart and soul of America that I have seen in the 45 years I have been involved in progressive politics. This election, no one is mincing words. We face a clear choice between two alternative visions of the kind of country we want to leave to our children.
Republican strategist chose Paul Ryan because they bet they could win this election by mobilizing their base. They believe that progressives – and many of those who were inspired by Barack Obama in 2008 will be dispirited and uninvolved in 2012. In the next 85 days, it’s up to us to prove them wrong.