By Paolo von Schirach
August 11, 2012
WASHINGTON – Good luck to Mitt Romney. By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate Romney made a really bold choice. Ryan is a relatively young (only 42) yet experienced seven terms Congressman from Wisconsin, currently Chairman of the House Budget Committee. But, most critically, Ryan is a radical reformer on fiscal and tax policies. So, Romney did not go for boring but safe middle of the road Republican candidates, (among them, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty or Ohio Senator Rob Portman). He went for a controversial congressional leader who has formidable credentials as the foremost Republican experts on federal spending and taxation, and as the political leader who proposes a reduced government as the only way to avoid fiscal collapse.
The political impact of this bold choice, though, is very difficult to predict. Ryan is very divisive. Way before he was thought of as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney, Ryan had already been portrayed by the Democrats and much of the main stream liberal media as an out of control extremist. In fact he has been artfully recast in truly demonic terms. Therefore, Romney can rest assured that Ryan will become the lightning rod for every possible demagogic attack about “the real purposes” (starving the poor, more money to the rich) of the fiscal reforms he has advocated as House Budget Committe Chairman.
Destroying the welfare state?
Ryan has already been defined by the left as the man who would love to destroy the welfare state, thus causing ruin and suffering to the elderly and the poor in America. In particular he is accused of plotting the obliteration of Medicare, the federal program designed to provide health care support to the retirees. (Never mind that the Medicare program, as currently designed, is so expensive that it is destined to absorb 100% of all federal revenue in just a few years. That is to say never mind that the program is on a totally unsustainable path. The cynical calculation is that the elections are in just a few months. And people do not vote today on what will happen to Medicare in 10 years, especially if we keep telling them that all will be just fine, as long as you vote for Obama.)
Ryan is the perfect enemy
And you can expect more of that from the Obama campaign. Ryan in a sense is the perfect enemy. Precisely because he is a true reformer in a political environment so far dominated by timid tinkering at the edges, it is very easy to misrepresent a bold new vision of reduced but affordable government as radical, extreme and just out of sync with the American people. Of course, if you do not tell the people how unaffordable what they are getting really is, they will naturally want to keep the checks coming, just as they have been coming for decades. It is only natural.
In this toxic “us against them” atmosphere, Obama and his people will do their best to argue that the choice of Ryan as Romney’s running mate underscores how this election is really a choice between a benign status quo with minor changes regarding the role of government and the size of entitlement programs on one side and the destruction of hard earned benefits programs that go back decades on the other.
Democrats as the defenders of Middle America
So, from the Democrats’ side you can expect a simple narrative. “We are the good guys. We are here to protect the weak in America: the retirees, the struggling middle class, the minorities, the single mothers with kids and the poor. Romney and his new sidekick Paul Ryan are the hired guns of the ridiculously rich, Wall Street, the mega millionaires, the insurance companies, and the oil conglomerates who want to suck even more of your blood”.
Ryan’s budget proposals have been portrayed as radical, ultra conservative, out of the main stream, you name it. The fact that on close inspection none of this is true does not really matter. This campaign, more so than other past campaigns, is all about rallying the base and appealing to fears and emotions. And just the idea of severe cuts to welfare programs scares millions of Americans. Never mind that Ryan never advocated cutting benefits to current retirees or people approaching retirement. He has proposed radical reforms that will affect later on those who are still young today and thus capable of making adjustments to new systems.
Will team Romney/Ryan succeed in making the case for reforms?
The open question is whether Romney and Ryan will be able to convince enough Americans that this election is the time to make a hard choice on fiscal and tax policies, along with buying new ideas about economic growth.
This is really a lot to chew on. Will the public be inspired by bold reform plans, or will most Americans be scared by the talk of impending fiscal Armageddon that team Romney/Ryan will dish out and thus retreat in the arms of Obama who promises to keep things going just as they are?
Will America wake up, understand what’s at stake and rise to the challenge, with the understanding that without serious policy changes we are headed towards insolvency and national decline, just like Greece and Spain; or endless stagnation, like Japan?
At the very least on thing is clear. By choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate Mitt Romney has shown that he is not fudging. He seems intent on presenting a clear and stark choice. More of the same with Obama, with the consequence of slow but steady American decline? Or an American renewal founded on the redefinition of entitlement programs, comprehensive tax reforms and pro business policies?