Romney gambles on radical Ryan as his game changer
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.