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The Ryan Gamble

The choice of a running mate can easily be over-stated.  Did anyone vote for Obama because they like Biden?  How about Dick Cheney?  Or, for that matter, Joe Lieberman?  The Veep doesn’t really change the ticket enough to make any real difference in the long run – but it can change the perception in the press and inject some energy into a campaign.  If that’s what was at stake here Mitt Romney, the candidate who could do nothing right, hit a home run or some other sports analogy right when he needed it.

Policy-wise, Paul Ryan brings some serious risk.  But his personality and articulate ability to speak out are the real deal.  Many liberals, including myself, have little choice but to respect him even as we disagree with him.  Nothing substantial has changed in this campaign but it looks like we have a race – and, more importantly, a chance to talk about the critical decisions that have to be made sooner rather than later.

Ryan’s positives are immediately apparent.  He’s a completely clean Janesville Wisconsin homeboy – good looking, earnest, sharp as they come, and full of energy.  He plays the poker game of politics without a lot of bluffing. Ryan is the anti-Romney in many ways, and the biggest question for the young Ron Paulite wing of the party will be why the ticket isn’t reversed.

The baggage he carries is his Medicare plan, which was successfully painted as a threat to end the system as we know it that will imperil millions of seniors.  Even Republicans shamelessly ran away from it after a short time, illustrating how dangerous this is politically.  And that gets us to the games of the campaign.

Democrats initially responded to the choice by trying to paint Ryan as a flip-flopper, running their Romney narrative, saying that his embrace of Ayn Rand was both publicly stated and repudiated.  This was a stupid attack point and quickly dropped.  It was replaced with an attack on his Medicare plan, a much more reasonable line.  What is interesting no matter what is how the Obama team is running more like a challenger than an incumbent as they reach out to define Ryan before he can define himself.

That Medicare plan, however, was an important milestone in politics from the last two dreadful years.  It does involve a “voucher” plan, where the government would pay basic premiums for seniors.  However, that does not mean the end of Medicare as we know it.  It might even help dovetail the system into “Obamacare” if done well.  What’s important about this plan, however, is that someone actually put forth a plan that would keep Medicare solvent, at least in some form.

Estimates as to when Medicare becomes “bankrupt” range from 2016 to 2024.  That’s uncomfortably close at hand, and something has to be done about it.   No one wants to touch the problem, however, because it will almost certainly be painful to reform and save.  Ryan’s plan may not be what any of us Democrats want to do, but it started the negotiations.   When Republicans scrambled away from the heat that it created an opportunity was lost.

Medicare is one of the Big Four issues confronting the Federal government which together are why we have such insanely high budget deficits.  The others are Social Security (very similar to Medicare), runaway Defense spending, and tax code reform.  Somewhere in here is a grand compromise between Democrats and Republicans, once they put themselves to work, that gets our budget back on track.  Ryan is one of the few people who has actually spoken out and presented options on all of these issues.

Then again, when it came time to make something happen Ryan backed out.  He was on the committee that was supposed to flesh out the Simpson-Bowles plan and get it going.  Instead, Ryan went with his Republican colleagues and voted to kill the process.  Ryan did that because it did not include a deal on Medicare, what Ryan will not let go of.  It does come back to that plan every time for Ryan, no mater what.

How big of an asset or liability is Paul Ryan?  Romney succeeded in many ways where John McCain failed – reaching out to the conservative base while appealing to a new constituency, in this case young moderates.  But where Ryan has served his nation the best, by opening dialogue on key and immediate problems, he brings a lot of peril to the ticket.

What any of us who are into budget policy can hope is that Ryan’s selection opens up the dialogue on these issues that he has constantly asserted is his main goal.  If that happens, no matter who wins the race the nation has a chance at winning this election.  Let’s hope.

19 thoughts on “The Ryan Gamble

  1. I’m not a Republican or a conservative by any stretch but I think Ryan’s medicare plan was not bad and probably what we will have to live with. But as the running mate it probably doesn’t matter at all which is really the main point.

    • I wonder the same thing – or something like what he proposed. At the very least, it’s better than letting the program go broke, which is a very real possibility if we do nothing.

  2. Sometimes I feel like I should be a Republican and I think I would be if they were more realistic and proposed solutions. Paul Ryan is the kind of guy I could vote for. I don’t know a lot about his plan and perhaps you should go over the details of it more. It would be a great service. What I have seen makes a lot of sense to me and if he were running for president I would have to consider him.

    • Interesting! All I ever ask is that politicians propose real solutions. I don’t have to agree with them, but as an opening shot in the negotiations Ryan’s plans are really not that bad. If that takes you over to the “Dark Side” we’ll miss you, Anna. 🙂

  3. Count me in as one of the people who wishes the ticket was reversed. Glad you saw through the partisanship and can appreciate Ryan. He is the real deal IMHO.

  4. The root causes of the US government finance mess are pretty clear:(1) expenditures on foreign wars, and (2) insufficiently progressive taxation. As far as I’m concerned, everything else is a symptom. But since nothing is being articulated clearly, its hard to know what will really influence the outcome… Does anybody else think this Ryan looks and talks like a Walker clone?

    • I’ll agree with you on the root causes if we can add something about willful inattention to projections/demographics/etc. As bad as it all looks it seems pretty fixable if you accept we aren’t going to rule the world and we’re going to have to pay for what we get no matter what. Those appear to be really big things to accept, which is why I have trouble taking most “conservatives” seriously.
      Which gets me to Ryan. I do think this guy is the real deal because he must have understood how badly his message on Medicare would be received, but he’s been pushing it anyways. I don’t see any leadership like that out of Walker, for example, who seems like a pretty fake trickster all around IMHO. I don’t begrudge people having a different opinion about how to run a society from me, but when you know it’s so unpopular you can’t state it up front (such as union busting) you’re just a coward.
      Tangent – take “Obamacare”, for example. Those against it have never suggested an alternative. Does that mean they support the “system” that we have now? And how on earth do they think they have the right to be so adamantly opposed to something without any kind of alternative?
      Back to Ryan – I don’t agree with him, but I like the fact he’s so upfront. Pinning the right down is the first step towards making a deal – or at least engaging in real dialogue and maybe getting the press away from the gamesmanship crap and into real analysis (call me an idealist on that). We have serious problems that needs serious solutions!

  5. Well, yes. I suppose one can’t easily imagine giving up military imperialism it the main thing is to keep the defense contractors on the gravy train. Likewise, it’s hard to envision a way out of the health care trap if one can’t imagine reining in the drug and hospital and insurance industries. The right-wingers represent those industries, so obviously they aren’t going to propose solutions. And Obama has shown us that the Dems won’t go further than incremental tweaking. So, obvious as the solutions may seem, it is getting harder and harder to envision the US getting its act together….

    I’m glad you think Ryan is less of a scumbag than Walker. I hope your right. Of course, one could be a lot better than Walker and still be very bad.

    • It is hard to see us really getting our act together. I look for any small reason to hope, I guess.
      I also really hate Walker, so I’m with you on this one. I think what he did was really sleazy.

  6. whats there to respect in a greedy selfish plutocrat? they are all the same – if ryan stands out sucking up to the rich it he is just more eager to show his masters how well he serves them

    • I would never vote for Ryan, but I think it’s important to respect our opponents when they seem to deserve it.
      Tell you what, if I’m wrong about him I’ll admit it. But if we do get a better discussion of what’s in front of us as a nation I’ll be very happy!

  7. What is missing from this blog is that you don’t mention you have a personal connection to Congressman’s Ryan’s district. I assume you used to travel there now and then. What have you heard in your travels to Wisconsin from those you have met there–good and bad things about Rep. Ryan. Ryan has had comfortable margins of victory in his heartland district. Are those the children of Reagan Democrats who have been voting for him–the salt of the earth types?

    Other things about Ryan:
    –he is of Irish and German ancestry.
    –he is Catholic. This can help although not with the Catholics who are practicing Buddhism and Taoism.
    –his district is close to the Chicago suburbs where he can reel in the votes of women whose husbands are currently unemployed
    –he is of Generation X, the ones who are concerned about the deficit and debt
    –he is the first midwesterner on the ticket since Walter Mondale.

    The question Romney could ask in the debates is: Where are the jobs.
    The burden of proof is on Obama and Obama will probably lose because we are in a depression. All the negative nonsense about Bain capital will be like pollen in the wind.

    Ryan’s task will be to help even up the race as the Republican convention starts and we are seeing that already.

    • I only went past Janesville on I-94, don’t know anyone there at all. But my kids have pretty deep Wisconsin roots. 🙂
      Jobs is the big issue, but it really hasn’t come up. I’ll get into that some more – once again, Obama going net positive in jobs is a pretty big deal and takes away the most powerful argument.
      The rest? I’ll let you crow for a while. 🙂

    • This is a chance to explain why I thought Quayle was far too much maligned – he was a decent guy, too. He didn’t always answer questions quickly because he thought about stuff. And I remember in 1992 in his concession speech when he said the name “Clinton” and the crowd booed, he had a great response – “Now, if he can run this nation as well as he ran his campaign, we’ll do all right.”
      No one can say anything bad about Quayle to me after that without an earful. Good guy. Need more Midwesterners. 🙂

  8. Pingback: Miscellaneous | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

  9. Thanks for the comment on Quayle. Whatever became of him?

    I’ll admit: guys like Ryan, right-wingers generally, promote ideas and policies that are mean and harmful and dishonest. From that it easily follows that they must be mean and dishonest as individuals. Not a fair assumption…..

    Aside from the expected knee-jerk denunciation of Ryan from the “left” side–where my head basically is, there’s lots of interesting stuff around about him. What he basically is, apparently, is a follower of Ayn Rand “objectivism.”
    Reich’s take on the thinking behind his selection seems reasonable:
    “Americans have already made up their minds about whom they’ll vote for, and the polls show Americans highly polarized – with an almost equal number supporting Romney as Obama – the winner will be determined by how many on either side take the trouble to vote. So in picking Ryan, Romney is motivating his rightwing base to get to the polls, and pull everyone else they can along with them.” (http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/12903-the-ryan-choice).

  10. Pingback: Ayn Rand | Barataria – The work of Erik Hare

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