Paul Ryan a choice not an echo

Hang onto your Medicare.  It – and our whole relationship to government – could change radically under a Romney/Ryan administration. We could be in for an interesting ride.

Strategically, Mitt Romney scored high in selecting Paul Ryan for his running mate.  As Romney’s position was eroding in national polls, and the number of so-called undecideds shrank,   conservatives increasingly were expressing their disenchantment with the candidate and his campaign.

The choice of Ryan was not an etch-a-sketch move to win over Hispanics, soccer moms and moderates/independents. It  was designed to solidify the Wall Street Journal/ Tea Party conservative base of the Republican Party. In  doing so, it changes the Romney campaign’s  focus from a referendum on President Obama’s past handling of the economy to a discussion of what kind of government the country wants going forward.

Chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan wants Medicare to become in effect a voucher plan, which could cost seniors at least $6000 a year more. His 2012 plan was slightly less onerous than his 2011 plan, which Newt Gingrich had called “right-wing social engineering.” Ryan also wants to privatize Social Security, leaving most older Americans solely at the mercy of the financial markets.  That said, Ryan and his longstanding immersion in federal budget issues add intellectual heft to the public discussion.  While his revised Medicare plan,  co-sponsored with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, shows a willignness to shape a more bi-partisan approach, we should also remember his role in scuttling last year’s  Boehner-Obama compromise Grand Bargain on the Budget and embarrassing his Speaker.   His becoming the VP nominee offers the opportunity for a more substantive campaign.

Ryan is a celebrated for his Roadmap and reputation as a budget hawk, but his voting record is suspect.  He  is AWOL on tax reform. It’s worth remembering that Ryan voted for both Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the Medicare Rx plan, but never linked  those votes to payment plans.   Although  he concedes that the Bush years were “embarrassing” due to their profligacy, he supported the Bush tax cuts and voted against the Simpson-Bowles recommendations.

Ryan, despite voting for TARP and the auto company bailouts, is a darling of the Tea Party movement, and the themes of his proposed budget reflect Tea Party values. His  budget doesn’t skate over the surface as Mitt Romney has in calling for budget balance, but it is still vague on specific program cuts while setting goals for reducing federal spending. Look for Democrat- supporting ads  to fill in the details in the worst possible light. Expect, as the New Yorker suggests, Ayn Rand and her “virtue of selfishness” to be used as a response to Romney-Ryan charges of “European Socialism.”

Recent polls show Romney ahead of Obama among  blue collar white males and the elderly. Many of them don’t know who Paul Ryan is but like their Social Security and Medicare. It will be interesting to watch how they will react as the Romney candidacy, for better or worse, gets tied to the Ryan vision of reduced government programs and entitlements. 

Ultimately, what people do in the voting booth is unlikely to hinge on who the vice presidential nominee is. But Ryan on the ticket helps crystallize voters’ choices in November.

I welcome your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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