Ironically, Ryan came to national attention trying to dismantle the very program that helped him go to the college of his choice, pushing an even more radical version of President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan, which failed. He has since become the scourge of the welfare state, a man wholly supported by government who preaches against the evils of government support. He could be the poster boy for President Obama’s supposedly controversial oration about how we all owe our success to some combination of our own hard work, family backing and government support. Let’s say it together: You didn’t build that career by yourself, Congressman Ryan….
The other component of GOP fakery Ryan exemplifies is the notion that a pampered scion of a construction empire who has spent his life supported by government somehow represents the “white working class,” by virtue of the demographics of his gradually gerrymandered blue collar district. I write about this in my book: guys like Ryan (and his Irish Catholic GOP confrere Pat Buchanan) somehow become the political face of the white working class when they never spent a day in that class in their life. Their only tether to it is their remarkable ability to tap into the economic anxiety of working class whites and steer it toward paranoia that their troubles are the fault of “other” people – the slackers and the moochers, Ayn Rand’s famous “parasites.” Since the ’60s, those parasites are most frequently understood to be African American or Latino – but they’re always understood to be the “lesser-than” folks, morally, intellectually and genetically weaker than the rest of us….
Ryan’s selection by Mitt Romney is a huge gift to Barack Obama and Joe Biden – and to the country. This is a clear electoral choice, with the potential for a rousing debate about the future of our country. Romney has spent two years refusing to tell us what he’d do as president. He’s literally said on more than one occasion that he won’t reveal his plans for specific program cuts, because if he did, people might not vote for him. But now he’s tied to a guy who’s revealed his pro-plutocrat agenda in bloody detail. What Obama this week called “Romneyhood” – Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor and giving to the rich – is best described as “Ryanhood.” Ryan’s budget is so devastating to the poor and middle class that it earned him a rebuke from the nation’s Catholic Bishops, the first time in memory they’ve entered politics for any reason but to deny women freedom and promote Republicans….
In the 70s, of course, Ryan’s GOP won over the white working class with these sorts of anti-welfare appeals, and at the time it was understood that the takers weren’t white. The toughest issue for today’s GOP is that increasingly, government takers are white; many are white seniors, the core of the GOP base. I’ve written before about Dartmouth political scientist Dean Lacy’s work showing that the more federal money a county receives, the more likely it is to vote Republican. That money might not be merely food stamps or temporary aid for needy families; it might also be crop subsidies, housing payments, Medicaid and even military spending, along with the wildly popular Medicare and Social Security.
Traditionally, Republicans have protected that kind of government spending while trying to slash money for the “undeserving poor,” but Ryan wants to cut all of it (except military spending). So much of the Republican base, Lacy says, has “the luxury of voting on social issues knowing that these federal spending programs will be kept in place.” But not anymore. That’s what Ryan brings to the GOP ticket – and the gift he gives to the Democratic ticket.
By the way, it’s a gift that will be immediately returned if the rumors that President Obama plans to name Erskine Bowles his new Treasury Secretary are true. Ryan was a Simpson-Bowles Commission member, though he eventually voted against its entitlement cutting because it also recommended tax increases. Bowles’ deficit-cutting fetishism is exactly what keeps the Democratic Party from offering a clear alternative to the GOP. Ryan’s addition to the GOP ticket makes the choice between Republicans and Democrats crystal clear. As long as Democrats remember that they’re Democrats.