Representative Ryan and Dancing With The One Who Brought You

Many of my fellow progressives are excited at the prospect of Mr Ryan sharing the ticket with Governor Romney, seeing the shift in the campaign from a referendum on the president to a clear choice between two contending ideologies for America’s future. Obama for America Campaign Manager Jim Messina released the following statement in response to Governor Romney’s pick of Representative Ryan as his nominee for vice president:

“In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes.”

You can see the enthusiasm with which the ground is being set. Me, I’m less sanguine.

The one thing about a prospective President Romney was the simple fact the governor has in his many years of public life yet to show any philosophical core, save only that burning desire to be president. And so I could always entertain the small hope that, well, who knows what he would do should he be elected? Among his many peregrinations there were even moments when he was a moderate. So, really, who knows…

But, one does tend to dance with those who brought you there, and if he succeeds and is elected, it will be because of the far right. And this selection telegraphs that he understands this.

Now Mr Messina frames the issues the campaign is now going to focus on. While he is of course running a campaign and wants to shade things to the advantage of his candidate, for me the sad thing is what he says is a simple statement of whats at stake.

Mr Ryan brings with him the core convictions that will, I’m moderately confident, be the governing principles of any Romney administration.

We’ve always been an oligarchic republic, with a heavy tilt toward the uber rich. For the past sixty years we’ve had real moderation of that with growing attention to a broader social contract, with the generality of citizens actually being the focus of government, or, at least a real focus of government. And during these years there has even been actual social mobility, the old are not automatically thrown into the gutter, and while far from perfect, pretty much everyone has had a shot at an education. With President Obama we even have the rough beginnings of something approaching universal access to health care in a rational way.

And it’s been very shaky in the past few years. The economy is in the dumps. I’m not one who completely blames the smart guys creating wild products based on real estate, I think nearly everyone actually believed real estate prices would forever and ever go up. But, the lack of oversight is remarkable, and I have no doubt it contributed considerably.

No doubt government regulation is a two edged sword. But, the truth of the matter is we haven’t had a great deal of it at the top. The rich have always had their way most of the time.

I’m not even against this as long as there really is a range of opportunity, of access to the tools to move up, and for those who fail, something more than hunger and misery.

And what are we getting in the Romney-Ryan ticket? Well, Mr Ryan is a radical libertarian, at least that is an economic libertarian, he seems happy enough to enforce his pre-Vatican II views about women and gays as social policy. The social agenda bothers me mightily, but it is the economic agenda that terrifies me.

My arguments with economic libertarianism are many. But mostly I find its more radical adherents, such as I understand Mr Ryan to be, are all about dismantling of what few protections those without personal power have, leaving the field to the truly powerful to do what they wish with the rest of us. They may even believe all they’re doing is forwarding personal freedom. But this is a smokescreen, intentional or not. We remove the protections we currently have, few as they are, we remove universal access to education and healthcare and pensions for the elderly, and what we have is a desperate mass of people who are little more than the tools of the rich and powerful.

For those who see Palin redux in Mr Ryan, this isn’t so. This is a smart guy, articulate, and who can sell his vision. He sounds reasonable. Even if his policies are in fact a call to the Gilded Age…

This election puts everything on the line.

And I worry for the republic, deeply,


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  • David Pyle

    I agree James… This raises the stakes, and I for one am not a big fan of “all in” moments… but that is what this election is turning into. I’ve begun to look back fondly on the days where civility allowed people of different viewpoints and ideologies to come together and wrangle and compromise, because it was so much better for my nerves and digestion. It might be different if this were really an ideological contest between Liberal/Progressive values and Libertarian/Oligarchic/Conservative values… but it is not. The “left” that will be represented by the Obama campaign is actually what used to be known as the middle/moderates. this is a fight between the middle and the far right… and framing this as an “either/or” choice leaves true liberal/progressive thought completely out of the political equation.


    Yours in Faith,


  • jamesford

    I agree with you, David. The Obama presidency has been a moderate one. And the choice, as you say is between what has been for Americans, a moderate middle and a far right option…

  • Bill Baar

    Ryan’s civil. Romney’s choice just made this an election about ideas, instead of one about birth places or pushing grandma off a cliff. Obama’s always scored points on likability but he’s going to have a much tougher go of it with Ryan. Just google that video of Ryan and Obama at the White House conference on the economy.

    Remember too Ryan has one repeatedly in a solidly Democratic and Working Class district in Wisconsin. One just to the north of me.

    Whether Obama wins or loses, this will be a fundamental debate over what makes America. One I look forward to watching and participating in.

    I’m also betting Obama dumps Biden shortly and replace him for SecState Clinton which will truely make the Veep debates epic. Right up there with Lincoln Douglas I suspect.

  • Bill Baar

    Let me add as a footnote regarding this: Even if his policies are in fact a call to the Gilded Age…

    Liberalism / Progressivism’s grand failure has been the inability to make 19th and 20th century notions of planning work in a 21st century that’s global and moves very fast. A Central Planner picking winning green industries, bailing out GM, simply not up to the task.

    I had a hint of this as a Young Socialist back in Grinnell when the Economics Department hosted a member of the Presidents Council of Economic Advisers. He gave a talk about the growing impact of computers on banking. All very geek stuff on the velocity of money and so on, and my favorite and Socialist Prof asked, “Isn’t this a natural for the Soviet Union?” I remember the council guy being a bit taken aback that he was in a room filled with Marxists both young and old, and he stumbled a bit on the reponse which I forget.

    That moment has stuck with me because it was computers and technology that brought the Soviet Union down, and did nothing to promote the managed economy Lenin sought when he said good communists should study accounting because that’s how the central state would work.

    That complexity and speed of change has just increased lithographically since the fall of the Soviet Union. A left concerned with Social Justice has to come up with a model that’s economically sustainable, otherwise conservatives focused on Liberty will have the field for many years to come.

    And that’s regardless if Obama re elected.

  • Bill Baar

    oh geez, lithographicall… I meant logarithmically

  • jamesford

    I don’t understand, Bill, why you’re arguing as if American progressives were socialists and socialists of a command market model? As the late Gore Vidal once observed we don’t have a real liberal tradition in America, by which he seemed to mean socialist; our left consists for the most part of gentle conservatives. Mr Obama is a case in point. No socialist, not by a long shot. American regulations and various other protections are a far distance from command markets. While we hear socialist rhetoric here and there, those voices also point out they’re not part of the Democratic party mainstream.

    And, I’m sympathetic to your thick fingers. Have similar issues, myself…

  • jamesford

    my own post script. I refer you back to the Reverend Mr Pyle’s remarks…

  • Bill Baar

    @Jamesford I belonged to the Young Peoples Socialist league as it was falling apart in the late 60s. The faction I belonged to started the Socialist Party a new under the former Mayor of Milwaukee, Frank Zeidler.

    A faction lead my Max Schactman and strongly linked to the AFL-CIO became neo-Cons.

    A third faction lead my Michael Harrington become the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee which evolved into today’s DSA. They were joined by dissident communists under the name of the Committee of Correspondence.

    Obama was and is solidly friendly and influenced by that middle Harrington group that plunged into Democratic Party politics (which I and more traditional Marxists abhorred). Obama was friends with guys like Quentin Young, Carl Davis, and others very familiar to those who know Chicago’s left, and especially that left that entered into the Democratic Party. The Harrington group also helped with establishing the Progressive Caucus in Congress in the 1990s.

    So while the Socialist Party was a dud, the Harrington strategy bore fruit with Obama’s election. It worked. Note the old fashioned Marxist traditions I knew, like singing the Internationale and so forth.

    The ideas of an Industrial Policy that picks winning and losing industries; that directs public investment along social justice criteria. The 100 or so boards included in ACA that will establish care protocols along socially usefull criteria (i.e. Zeke Emanuel’s triage thinking) are all central planning notions that are solidly Socialist (and I still have my party card!) It’s just a bourgeoisie party that’s implementing the agenda. Something I never would have dreamed possible in 1971. Recall that was the era of Mayor Daley (the first) in Chicago.

    But Michael’s vision for DSOC worked. The Schacmanites became NeoCons, and that little rump party of SPers still makes some noise in Milwaukee.

    I was wrong. So was Gore Vidal.

    PS If you go to the Chicago DSA page and follow the link to the Debs Day dinners, and go back to 1971 or 1972 you’ll see a pic of me way way in the back. The speaker was a guy from the Canadian NDP.

  • Dave Murray

    Wow, this all raises serious doubt in my mind that meditation facilitates clear thinking.

    The party elite deciders despise libertarians (Ron Paul). If Paul Ryan was at all libertarian they would not be promoting him.

    Government is force, there is a gun on the table in all of it’s interaction with the people. What it gives to one man it took from another. It is an immoral band of armed thugs. The left/right paradigm is a false dichotomy. Ds and Rs have made no difference in our long march toward more central planning where decisions are made by those who are not effected by them; madness.

    But perhaps it is just because I am libertarian in my thinking that what I’ve read here seems to strange.

  • Dave Murray

    But I too, worry about our republic.

  • Dave Murray

    I don’t see a way to remove my previous comments. Sorry that I made them, I read this blog for Buddhism. Seeing a big government demapublican being called a libertarian set me off. I should not be so attached to my political beleifs. Very un-Buddhistish of me.

  • tyson

    Socialism is good in theory and might work in a Utopian society, but you can look at the current state of Europe to see how well it works in practice. Greece and Spain, the two most socialist countries are in the most trouble. Germany, the least socialist, is in the best shape financially. Until everyone is enlightened and realizes that we are all one, there will be more people who try to take advantage of the system due to laziness and greed than those that can keep up production. So James, keep teaching exceptionally hard and one day we may get there.

  • Alexander S. Anderson

    Just a clarification: those Pre-Vatican II views on social mores have not been altered, they remain the views of the Church. Just so you’re aware.