Romney gambles on radical Ryan as his game changer

Mon, Aug 13, 2012, 01:00

MITT ROMNEY’S choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate was widely hailed by commentators from left and right as “bold”, “risky” and likely to shift what had degenerated into a petty and nasty campaign to “substantive issues” about the size and role of the federal government, taxation and social spending.

Ryan, aged 42, a representative for Wisconsin for the past 14 years, made his reputation as chairman of the House budget committee, where last year he devised a plan that epitomises Republican disdain for the poor and reverence for the rich.

Three-fifths of the cuts in Ryan’s plan to balance the federal budget would be taken from the poor, including job training for the unemployed, grants for education and food stamps, according to the New York Times.

Frank Clemente of Americans for Tax Fairness Action noted that proposals by Romney and Ryan would give tax breaks of more than $250,000 to Americans making more than $1 million, but raise taxes for 95 per cent of Americans earning less than $200,000 a year.

The measures proposed are so inequitable that US Catholic bishops rebuked Ryan, who is Catholic, in a letter last April, calling the tax cuts “unjustified and wrong”. The Ryan plan “will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment,” the bishops said.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly singled out Ryan for criticism. When the Ryan plan was revealed in 2011, the White House invited Ryan to attend Obama’s speech on the economy at George Washington University.

With Ryan seated in the front row, Obama called the draft budget “deeply pessimistic”, said a scheme to reduce deficits while cutting taxes for the wealthy could not be taken seriously, and added that there was nothing “courageous” about demanding sacrifices only from those who were already suffering. The plan would create an America “fundamentally different that what we’ve known throughout our history,” he said.

Last spring, Obama called the Ryan plan “thinly veiled social Darwinism” and a “radical vision” that is “antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility”.

On Saturday, Romney, true to his reputation for gaffes, inadvertently introduced Ryan as “the next president of the United States” before correcting himself. Until then, Romney and leading Republicans had shied away from identifying themselves too closely with Ryan’s plan to partially privatise government Medicare insurance for over-65s, and drastically reduce other government benefits. Since it was passed under president Lyndon B Johnson, Medicare has become a popular programme, particularly in swing states such as Florida, home to large numbers of senior citizens.

So why did the normally risk-averse Mr Romney, who had been expected to choose the far more bland Ohio senator Rob Portman or the former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, gamble on such a polarising figure as Ryan, young Turk and fiscal ideologue of the Republican party? Because Romney was losing.

Despite the halting US recovery, Obama’s lead in opinion polls had reached its highest since April. Romney, like John McCain when he chose Sarah Palin four years ago, desperately needed a “game changer”.

Romney wanted this election to be a referendum on Obama’s record in office. By choosing Ryan as a running mate he has embraced the crushing accountancy of the Ryan plan and transformed the race into the contest of economic visions desired by Obama.

A statement from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid showed how Ryan’s presence on the ticket will be used to attack Romney.

“By picking representative Paul Ryan, governor Romney has doubled down on his commitment to gut social security and end Medicare as we know it,” Reid said. “Romney’s choice demonstrates that catering to the Tea Party and the far right is more important to him than standing up for the middle class.”

The conservative National Review praised Ryan as “the Republican who has made the most pointed critique of the philosophy that underlies Obama’s economic policies” and predicted that “Democrats will say that Romney-Ryan is a ticket committed to ‘dismantling’ Medicare (by ensuring its solvency); that it would leave the poor to fend for themselves (by extending the successful principles of welfare reform); that their only interest is to comfort the rich (whose tax breaks they wish to pare back).” These are “debates worth winning and they can be won”, it added.

With his Kennedyesque looks and impassioned manner, Ryan will inject life into Romney’s dull campaign. Some predict Ryan’s rallies will draw greater crowds than either Romney’s or Obama’s. In his acceptance speech – staged with a wink to his home state on the USS Wisconsin – Ryan adopted the dual role of vice-presidential candidates as attack dog and cheerleader, decrying Obama’s “record of failure” and praising Romney as “a man of achievement, excellence and integrity”.

The vice-presidential debates between Ryan and Joe Biden could be as interesting as those between Romney and Obama. Both are devout Catholics and Irish Americans who claim working class origins. Though the Irish vote is split between Democrats and Republicans, the Catholic vote is seen as a bellwether every bit as accurate as the state of Ohio, famous for its near flawless record of picking US presidents.

Ryan displayed his Irishness when he and a Democratic colleague were honoured by the American Ireland Fund last St Patrick’s Day. He told how the Ryans settled in Wisconsin in the mid-19th century because it looked like Ireland, without realising how bitterly cold the winters would be.

Ryan claimed he had been inspired by Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s budget-cutting – a dubious contention that had much of the audience squirming. Then he told an off-colour joke, complete with a poor imitation of an Irish accent, about a dying Irishman who asks his friend Paddy to pour his treasured bottle of 50 year-old whiskey over his grave. “D’ya mind if I pass it through my kidneys first?” Paddy answers. Men in dinner suits and jewelled ladies in evening gowns groaned.

Like his mentor Romney, Ryan has a knack for saying the wrong thing.


IN TAPPING Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan to be his vice-presidential running mate, Mitt Romney has chosen an ambitious, self-described “young gun” who has staked his entire career on a single issue: slashing the federal budget.

Ryan has spent most of his adult life in Congress, with little business or executive experience. He steadily built his credibility as a Washington insider, starting as an intern on Capitol Hill and then becoming an aide to a Republican senator from Wisconsin.

The 2010 manifesto Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders, which he co-authored, elevated Ryan’s prominence. It showcased the small-government “opportunity society” he had been advocating for years to smaller audiences, and it provided a national forum for promoting Ryan’s political agenda, making him a favourite of the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

A Green Bay Packers football fanatic, Ryan often makes reference to his midwestern roots and how he prioritises spending time in Wisconsin with his wife, tax lawyer Janna Little, and their three young children.

Ryan is also a fitness buff – his father and grandfather died of heart attacks in their 50s – and leads his fellow lawmakers in what has been described as a gruelling daily exercise group.

Ryan has won respect from many corners. President Barack Obama has commended him for his serious approach to budgeting, while attacking the specific proposals.

“He is the single politician . . . willing to get specific” on cutting the deficit, Maya MacGuineas, head of the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said last year.

There is little in Ryan’s background that gives him a deep grounding in foreign policy, military affairs or business.

Unlike some Republicans, he refrained from criticising the US withdrawal from Iraq and winding down a war that added hundreds of billions of dollars to budget deficits.– (Reuters)