Beyond the Romney sidekick's beautiful calm lurks a lot of rage

Mon, Aug 20, 2012, 01:00

OPINION:The fresh Generation X vice-presidential contender, Paul Ryan, at first blush emanates a thoughtful, reassuring reasonableness

WHAT HAPPENS when you realise you are the machine you’re raging against?

Tom Morello, the Grammy-winning, Harvard-educated guitarist for the metal rap band Rage Against the Machine, punctured Paul Ryan’s pretensions to cool in a Rolling Stone essay rejecting R&R (Romney’n’Ryan) as R&R (rock’n’roll).

“He is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades,” Morello writes, adding: “I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta ‘rage’ in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment.

“Basically, the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s grovelling in front of for campaign contributions.”

In my experience, when a presidential candidate needs some outside force to animate him – Michael Dukakis needed Kitty, Bob Dole needed C-Span, Willard needs Paul – it spells doom.

The fresh Generation X vice-presidential contender – like Sarah Palin, he favours the exclamation “awesome” – has had mixed reviews in his debutante cotillion.

Howard Fineman wrote in the Huffington Post that “Ryan turns out, upon closer inspection, not to be a purifying ideologue, but rather a young, power-hungry, ladder-climbing trimmer”. The self-styled deficit cutter backed Bush’s deficit-exploding agenda, and the tut-tutting critic of the Obama stimulus grabbed for the president’s stimulus money.

Neocons and tea partiers, however, continued to rhapsodize. Grover Norquist told Bloomberg’s Al Hunt that Ryan would be the Dick Cheney of economic and tax policy. And that’s a compliment.

The comparison is apt. Ryan looks like a bonus Romney son, as Dan Quayle did with Bush senior. Republicans find the tableau of two rich white guys – same shirts, different generations – comforting. With Bush and Cheney, the usual order switched and the vice-presidential candidate played the role of surrogate dad.

Where Ryan is like Cheney is in tone: at first blush, the Wisconsin congressman emanates a thoughtful, reassuring reasonableness, talking to reporters and sometimes Democratic lawmakers. Cheney’s deep voice, like the headmaster of a boys’ prep school, seemed moderate and measured, too, at first. But it is deceptive. Both men are way, way out there.

It is, to use a phrase coined by French doctors, la belle indifférence, or “the beautiful calm” of hysterical people. But the closer you look, the uglier it gets.

Just as Cheney, hunter of small birds and old friends, once defended cop-killer bullets and plastic guns that could slip through airport metal detectors, so Ryan, deer hunter, championed concealed guns and curtailing the background check waiting period from three days to one.

Just as Cheney was always willing to cough up money to guerrillas in Nicaragua and Angola but not to poor women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies, so Ryan helped pay for Bush’s endless wars while pushing anti-abortion Bills, like one undercutting an exemption from the ban on using federal money for abortions in cases of rape or incest, and narrowing the definition of rape to “forcible rape”. What on earth is nonforcible rape? It’s like saying nonlethal murder. Why redefine acts of aggression against women as non-acts of aggression?

Even Catholic bishops, who had to be dragged toward compassion in the paedophilia scandal, were dismayed at how uncompassionate Ryan’s budget was.

Mitt Romney expects his running mate to help deliver the Catholic vote and smooth over any discomfort among Catholics about Mormonism. (This is the first major-party ticket to go Protestant-less.) Yet after Ryan claimed his budget was shaped by his faith, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops deemed it immoral.

“A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons,” the bishops wrote in a letter to Congress.

The Jesuits were even more tart, with one group writing to Ryan: “Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favourite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The nuns on the bus also rapped the knuckles of the former altar boy who now takes his three children to Mass.

As Sr Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice group Network, told MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, it’s sad that a Catholic doesn’t understand that “we need to have each other’s backs. Only wealthy people can ever begin to pretend that they can live in a gated community all by themselves.”

Even Ryan’s former parish priest in Janesville weighed in. Fr Stephen Umhoefer told the Center for Media and Democracy: “You can’t tell somebody that in 10 years your economic situation is going to be just wonderful because meanwhile your kids may starve to death.”

Beyond the even-keeled Ryan mien lurks full-tilt virulence.

A moderate demeanor is not a sign of a moderate view of the world.

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