Romney's Choice of Paul Ryan Should Scare You
It shows just how aggressive the Republicans are that they picked Tea Party favorite Ryan, author of the radical Republican budget plan that targets the poor and elderly with deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Progressive groups immediately denounced the choice. Planned Parenthood pointed out that Ryan's budget would have a devastating impact on women by dismantling Medicaid. Ryan has promised to work to end all safe and legal abortion, with no exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and has supported a personhood amendment giving full constitutional rights to fertilized eggs, Planned Parenthood points out.
But no one has done a better job of shining a light on the immorality of Ryan’s signature initiative--his budget plan--than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops wrote to Congress to explain that: “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.”
When Ryan went to speak on the Georgetown University campus, ninety Georgetown University faculty and administrators sent him a letter, quoting the bishops, and taking him to task for his misuse of Catholic social teaching in defending his budget cuts for the poor.
“Our problem with Representative Ryan is that he claims his budget is based on Catholic social teaching,” said Jesuit Father Thomas J. Reese, one of the organizers of the letter. “This is nonsense. As scholars, we want to join the Catholic bishops in pointing out that his budget has a devastating impact on programs for the poor.”
“I am afraid that Chairman Ryan’s budget reflects the values of his favorite philosopher Ayn Rand rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Father Reese wrote.
With Romney's choice of Ryan, the Presidential election becomes a fundamental contest of values.
Ryan is a darling of the right for his "bold" conservatism.
But here in Wisconsin, we know him as the Congressman from a hard-hit industrial district who voted against extending unemployment benefits, children's health insurance, and stimulus money that directly benefited his constituents, on the grounds that these programs would add "more than a dime" to the federal deficit.
As manufacturing jobs fled his district, Ryan supported free trade agreements that have had a devastating impact on his home town of Janesville, as well as nearby Kenosha and Racine.
When Ryan had the temerity to march in Labor Day parade last year, he and his wife were taken aback by the response from union members:
(Watch it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YD0lh1Zj81I)
"How can we be at a Labor Day parade when there's so much unemployment?" one out-of-work constituent asked. "This is a sad Labor Day."
"This is not the time," Ryan and his wife repeatedly told the union members who approached him. "We're here for a parade."
"What should I have to do to get a job?" one constituent persisted, as they walked along the parade route. "Should I have to work for the same wages they make in China?"
"Have a nice day, OK?" said Ryan. "Would you like some candy?"
Ryan's fundraising prowess, his boyish charm, and his reputation for excellent constituent service has kept him in Congress--and kept the Democrats from seriously challenging him--despite his dreadful record on the pocketbook issues that most affect his home district.
I caught up with Ryan at several town hall meetings on his controversial budget plan.
(See "Listening to Paul Ryan": http://www.progressive.org/rc0429b11.html)
He had gotten used to national press attention, and to frequent protests, particularly by sign-carrying grandmas in tennis shoes.
“We all have strong opinions,” he said with a hearty smile at one such event at a high school gym in Franklin, Wisconsin. “Let’s show people we can have a civil debate.”
The whole Ryan budget represents a massive assault on the poor and middle class.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would actually lead to bigger deficits and more debt over the next ten years--that's because Ryan relies on a projected boom from trickle-down that is unlikely to materialize.
But Ryan puts a fresh face on the rightwing agenda of social destruction.
It works. Ryan’s friendly, open demeanor relaxes the crowd. So does his pitch that his budget is really not as radical as they’ve heard—and that it won’t touch them personally.
“How many of you are fifty-five or over?” he asks the crowd in Franklin. Nearly every hand goes up. “This won’t affect you,” he says.
As he flips through PowerPoint slides, talking fast the whole time, he unleashes a cascade of charts and graphs he says show our economy being crushed under the weight of government spending.
“Welfare reform worked well in the 1990s, but it only reformed one program,” he says. “We need to reform the other entitlements.”
When people attack his plan, like a woman wearing a Wisconsin solidarity t-shirt , who told Ryan that his budget is “balanced on the backs of the poor,” and pointed out that we have “the lowest taxes on the rich ever,” he leans forward and nods and praises her politeness.
“Some people say, ‘Just raise taxes,’” Ryan says. “Trust me, it’s mathematically impossible,” to fix the deficit that way.
To a constituent who says that the entire deficit was created by Republican tax cuts and unfunded wars, Ryan says: “We just disagree from an economic perspective, but I appreciate your point.”
Taxing “economic producers,” he says, will cost jobs and hurt competitiveness.
You’d never guess, listening to his presentation, that the budget was in surplus, the economy was booming, and the top 1 percent of Americans were paying a tax rate of 39 percent just a decade ago.
The retirees sitting right beside me in Franklin were not sure what to make of the economic arguments, so they fell back on their gut-level impressions of Ryan’s plain-spoken, approachable manner. “He seems all right,” said one.
Not everyone is fooled, however.
A large group of grandmas in tennis shoes who live in Ryan's district and came out to protest his proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program at a town hall meeting in Kenosha.
(See "Paul Ryan v. Grandmas in Tennis Shoes": http://www.progressive.org/rc042711.html)
"Of course I don't want to see Medicare and Social Security go away," said Caroline Grace, a retired accountant for a manufacturing firm, who was marching outside the event.
But it's more than that, she added: "I'm against the whole Republican ideology. They want to cut taxes and call it trickle-down economics. That doesn't work. They want to destroy the New Deal and take us back 100 years. I've been reading about this for years. People didn't believe they would go after Social Security and Medicare, but it's not under the radar anymore."
With Romney's choice of Ryan as his running mate, the whole radical economic agenda of the Republican Party is no longer "under the radar."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter
More Background on Paul Ryan
The Progressive's coverage of Mitt Romney's running mate
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