Ryan’s home-staters take the lead in exposing him

MILWAUKEE, Wis. – GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s choice on Aug.11 of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate may give Romney 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.

As a result, Democrats, including those in Ryan’s home state, can’t wait to get organized against this choice. They started releasing fact sheets, holding press conferences, and launching video ads the day of Romney’s announcement.

The Ryan 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, R-W. Va., joined several GOP colleagues in voting against it for “trying to balance the budget on the backs of seniors.”

And David Frum, a veteran respected speechwriter for former GOP President George W. Bush, 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. Romney intended that its members should be excited, but it may be another story 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.

Setting aside inevitable state pride when any Wisconsin native gets national political attention, the Ryan choice 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 Ryan’s economic platform echoes the Bush years, with Ryan arguing he would do it better.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., who entered the House with Ryan in the class of 1998, said she had feared the 2012 election would be about “saving Obamacare,” but now it is clearly about “saving Medicare.” 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.” Even some conservative pundits call Romney’s attempt to tilt far-Right with the Ryan pick, “Manna from heaven for Obama.”

Most importantly, reams of political campaign money can’t neutralize the parade of nonpartisan fiscal experts who confirm Ryan’s economic plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade, putting the burden on 95 percent of the U.S. residents while giving tax breaks to the top five percent. His economic plan makes everything President 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.”

Clearly, Romney’s choice of Ryan was a subtle embrace of the right-wing popularity of GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with whom Ryan shares a media image as boyish brave scouts laying down the hammer rather than negotiating.

Except that Walker’s approach is largely unproven and disappointing. The kindest pronouncement is 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 jobs the Bush years and Ryan’s budget concepts took away.

That opens the door for the media to examine Ryan’s support for outsourcing and his Obama-like ad in 2008 criticizing Romney’s style of outsourcing. Ryan may have to explain to a critical Janesville – his hometown full of blue-collar workers — how he didn’t fight to keep the GM plant open but was running around pushing a scheme to gamble Social Security funds on the stock market and to gut Medicare and Medicaid.

And he’ll have to make that same explanation now to workers nationwide.

“Ryan is a root cause of many of the financial issues our country faces today,” says Rob Zerban, the Democratic nominee for Ryan’s congressional seat. “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 other side to the argument is the choice of Ryan is atypical of cautious Romney and thus admirable. Though why is Romney making such a departure unless he is worried about shoring up his right-wing base?

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 percent. To support Walker’s war on collective bargaining Ryan earned “Pants on Fire” and Pinocchio ratings from the media by saying the protests in Madison against Walker were “riots — it’s like Cairo has moved to Madison these days.”

Given Romney’s propensity for putting his foot in his mouth, you would think his handlers would have sought someone less prone to extremist statements. They rely on Ryan’s experience at retail politics. But this is a national stage that exposes his behavior more closely, and Ryan 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 percent for families under his economic plan. Nor do the Democrats need pundits pointing out 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 Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, who worked cordially with Ryan though they deeply disagree on politics, shrewdly noted Romney’s pick “confirms that any hope of an Etch-a-Sketch switch of Romney back to the center will not take place.”

Instead Romney “embraced the Ryan economic approach and the top-down trickle-down policy of making middle class taxpayers pay for the rich to get richer.” 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.” That’s an unintended self-description.

Dominique Paul Noth is the editor of Milwaukee Labor Press.

Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, milwaukeelabor.org. He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.