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Paul Ryan: A One-Man Fiscal Cliff?

Last updated on February 9th, 2013 at 07:28 pm

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Paul Ryan demonstrates his patented “Budget Karate Chop.”

There were a couple of entertaining hashtags trending on Twitter the day Romney announced Paul Ryan as his choice for Vice Presidential running mate. Republicans were giddy about the prospect of a Romney/Ryan ticket, and together with horrified Democrats, they propelled the #RomneyRyan2012 hashtag to the number one spot for at least a full 14 hours. One excited tweeter cited the top-trending status as proof that Romney had knocked it out of the park, to which I felt obliged to reply, “Yes, haven’t seen this much excitement since McCain picked Palin.”

The thrust of the #BidenDebateLines thread seemed to be that Biden was a doddering fool, and that the silver-tongued Ryan would give him a sound thrashing in a debate. My contribution to the campaign is this debate line: “My opponent is on record as wanting to dismantle Social Security and Medicare… I think we’re done here.” Go ahead, Joe. That joke is on the house (pun intended).

Now, no one would say that Romney has run a particularly adroit campaign, but the choice of Ryan as his running mate may well prove to be his biggest faux pas yet. He has just spooked the bejeezus out of Florida retirees and senior citizens everywhere, alienated a wide swath of moderate independents, not to mention energizing Democrats more effectively than millions’ worth of clever Obama ads. Why Romney chose to take a hard right with the math-challenged Ryan at the very moment Republicans typically tack left is a mystery.

My sense throughout the entire campaign thus far has been that Mitt Romney is a Massachusetts moderate who will say anything to get elected. Sure, he spearheaded RomneyCare and signed an assault weapons ban, but that was a long time ago. If Tea Partiers demanded he flap his wings and cluck like a chicken, he’d damn well flap, cluck, and lay an egg if that’s what it took to get the Republican nomination. Then, I presumed, he’d return to the reality based community, hat in hand, and promise to behave himself if elected.

The conventional wisdom was that Mitt would break out his Etch-a-Sketch, give it a good shake and reintroduce himself to America as a reasonable guy. He certainly didn’t need to shore up the hard right; They already think Obama is a socialist interloper, and could be counted on to get out the vote for a loaf of moldy Wonder bread if that was their only choice. All he had to do was keep bashing Obama over the head with a lousy economy and try to make it stick. Why he hasn’t done this is anyone’s guess.

Romney and Ryan may fill the bill nicely as the standard bearers for a post-literate society, but they’re not stupid men. Make no mistake, both Romney and Ryan, and everyone else in Washington (with the possible exception of the Texas Congressional delegation), understand that enforcing deep spending cuts in a fragile economy is a recipe for doom. The bipartisan histrionics over the impending “fiscal cliff” is proof of this. Even far right fiscal ideologues who ordinarily relish the opportunity to pound a podium and declare that government doesn’t create jobs are shitting their pants at the prospect of these deep spending cuts. Suddenly, government spending is, well. a necessarily evil.

Ryan’s “fiscal ravine” budget would have a similar effect if adopted, but that’s the point. It would never have been adopted, and most important, Ryan knew that. It was a coldly calculated piece of grandstanding, and Ryan knew full well it would never see Obama’s signature. Like all of the useless House votes undertaken solely for the purpose of scoring political points, Republicans could bask in the glory of a hard-lost battle without ever having to answer for the destruction and misery their policies would have caused if adopted. Ryan quite simply managed to have his cake and eat it too.

Presidents don’t have that luxury.

Ryan might have the hair just right, but his budget was not in the least bit Reaganesque; It’s pure Randian regressivity with a side order of privatization. Worse, it doesn’t even shrink the deficit. Which is why everyone hated it. Which is Romney isn’t touting the “Ryan Plan.” Rather, Ryan is touting the “Romney Plan.”

Is it so hard to believe that Romney and Ryan will campaign on “fiscal sanity” and then spend like drunken sailors if they’re elected? God knows that’s worked for Republicans for decades, at least since Reagan opened the floodgates. As Richard Nixon (and Milton frigging Friedman) said, “we’re all Keynesians now,” and Republicans still do it for the same reason Democrats do it: it works. Of course, it would be better to invest money wisely, but that doesn’t seem to be possible anymore.

So, are Butch Romney and the Sumbitch Kid really going to jump over that cliff? Not likely. They might be convinced that they’ll eke out a victory if they can convince the American electorate to warm up to an unpopular and counterproductive austerity platform by wrapping it in a flag and invoking Reaganesque imagery, but chances are they’ll start tacking left when their poll numbers drop. Ryan will continue to distance himself from the specifics of his budget and maintain that “it’s not perfect,” but “it’s a serious attempt,” and “at least he’s trying.” Perhaps they’re already planning a Clintonesque mea culpa address in which Romney apologizes on national television for not being able to cut the budget like he said he would.

Would House Republicans under a Romney-led regime cut taxes anyway, ballooning the deficit and debt still further? Possibly. Would they slide some stimulus spending in under the radar to goose the economy? Very likely. With a Republican in the White House and Ryan’s seal of approval on every House-sponsored boondoggle, we’d be able to get back to spending like drunken sailors once again. Over the near term, that might not be such a bad thing.

Maybe the best little whorehouse in Washington could use a few drunken sailors right now… just to liven up the joint.

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