Mitt's Forced Hand
With the presidential race dominated last week by ongoing speculation on just how little in taxes Mitt has paid over the years, and the week before that by news of Mitt’s gaffes across the pond, the former governor really needed a popularity boost. The power brokers of the right decided they’d had enough of Mitt’s dithering around on a vice presidential candidate and decided to choose one for him. As the dutiful CEO he is, Mitt followed the orders of the Republican Board of Trustees and announced Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. This appears to be one of the more smug and smarmy tickets in American political history.
Ryan has become the intellectual leader and charismatic big ideas person behind the new wave of conservative Republican economic theory, which is kind of frightening considering he has spent virtually his entire professional life as either a politician or political staffer. The totality of his business, finance and economics background appears to be an undergraduate degree, "Atlas Shrugged" and the House of Representatives. This resume is to naïve and narcissistic ideology what standing water is to mosquitoes.
The Path to Prosperity, which Romney either fully endorses or gives a more qualified approval to based on what color tie he is wearing that day, is the closest thing to a manifesto that right-wing conservatives have right now. This budget is definitively not the courageous agenda of an outsider willing to shake up the establishment, which is how the Tea Party likes to fancy itself, but the same rigged game of powerful people extracting money at the expense of those with less influence. Ryan has just been able to sell it with the true-believer earnestness of a guy who isn’t quite as smart as he thinks he is, but knows how to flatter an audience suffering from the same obnoxious disconnect.
The Ryan budget slashes Medicaid and numerous other domestic programs for lower-income Americans, but leaves defense spending insanely high and gives monster tax cuts to very rich people. Much has been made of the Medicare reforms in the Ryan budget, which changes the program from single-payer to a coupon system. Obviously, seniors currently on Medicare are not in love with a program that cuts their services while adding more paperwork and bureaucracy, but these changes to Medicare wouldn’t affect anyone currently over 55. One would hope that older Americans might find it unfair than the next generation of Americans won’t be getting the same benefits in old age and would stand up against the Ryan plan on principle, but it’s far more likely that the predominant reaction will be “I’m over 55—not my problem” followed by some type of racially-tinged criticism of young people.
He may have been anointed grand theorist of the Republican Party, but Ryan’s budget is as much a serious exercise in addressing today’s actual economic problems as intelligent design is science. It does nothing to create jobs or get people affordable health care. It is literally fantasy novel morality masquerading as public policy, with a few good talking points to sell to downstream Republicans so those at the top can trickle all the way to the (Cayman Islands) bank.
The selection of Ryan—and particularly the way he ended up on the ticket—smacks of junior high peer pressure. Mitt felt that he had to align himself with the popular kid and his personal style or risk losing the respect of his fickle classmates. Mitt is basically Carlton when Will started attending Bel-Air Prep.
Ryan can go up in front of crowds and speak relatively eloquently and convincingly in his folksy manner about voodoo economics because he’s done his homework and is fluent in the language, but he isn’t quite aware enough to realize that his ideology makes no sense when examined on a more detailed level. He would make a fantastic pastor. He is very good at telling people what they want to hear and getting them to agree with what rich people want done; after all, he's spent plenty of time in and around Congress.
Paul Ryan may be much further to the right on economic issues than most Republican leaders in recent memory, but that’s because the Republican Party is much further to the right itself than it has been in years. He’s just a fresh face on an old ideology with backers so emboldened they aren’t even trying to be sly about getting over on people anymore. He is the huckster front man for empty suit Romney and his plan to steal from the infirm and give to investment firms.
Romney is an extraordinarily successful businessman, but the core function of his business was delivering returns to wealthy people. His career training was all about squeezing the bottom to inflate the top, and it’s silly to expect him to suddenly shift away from the culture he grew up in. He is more than happy to carry water for the richest Americans, and sees the presidency as a way to further entrench their privilege.
Mitt is not a secret moderate as much as a mercenary executive swooping in on a short-term contract to restructure a company, distribute cash to the shareholders, and move on to the next task. He’s uncomfortable around everyday people because he doesn’t deal with them; they are line items on an income statement that may or may not appear next month. He was clearly trying to pull off this whole president thing with a lot of events in the quiet rooms he prefers and fewer unscripted moments with unclean commoners, but he was struggling in the polls, needed a jolt and was told to embrace the conservative movement’s golden boy.
It seems like Mitt isn’t running for president to accomplish anything other than cutting the taxes of people like himself (and possibly taking on the Soviets), and his lack of a principled platform has led his campaign to go with a “don't offend any potential conservative voters” strategy instead of standing up against nonsense from the lunatic fringe and the misinformed base.
The Massachusetts mannequin needed to spice up his campaign. He now has the heartland heartthrob with the extremely conservative voting record. Mitt Romney, serious family man and business executive, has hitched his wagon (with kennel on top) to the fiscal crazy train, its me-first passengers and its slick-talking conductor. Should be a fun ride.
Reach Staff Columnist Matt Pressberg here.