Monday, August 13, 2012

Politics: Campaign Boost or Cannon Fodder?

A different subject for today, likely motivated by excessive Olympics and renewed attention to Presidential politics.

Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan amounts to a battlefield promotion from a boot camp hotshot to a combat lieutenant. That metaphor isn't literal because neither candidate has one iota of actual military experience, despite their mutual coziness with neocon thinking that advocates an ever expanding defense budget. Oddly, that preference seems to impact fiscal budget balancing in a way that is undeniable; it leads one to the conclusion that without either defense cuts or tax increases, the only changes likely to be seriously considered are cuts to social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, education and environmental and consumer protection. Good luck with that plan!

For all of Romney's vagueness, gaffes and flip floppiness, this VP selection begins to tangibly box him in because it probably reflects the way he is really thinking more than anything he's said to date. Why, even Muhammad Ali couldn't dance his way out of this corner, and he was really good at it!

It's the way Ryan thinks that appeals to Romney, plus his fresh personality and demonstrated ability to charm while presenting daring ideas that most politicians wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Ryan's core values seem very similar to Romney's, but his candor is much superior - something that can only boost Romney's own deficiency, at least temporarily.

Paul Ryan is less than 6 weeks younger then my son, also 42. That's also the age of Mitt Romney's oldest son. Generation gaps that wide between Presidential candidates and their VP choices are pretty rare. Why is that? Most likely because of the experience factor and the maturity that comes over time from dealing with life's challenges, not just noodling over adolescent notions instilled by reading Ayn Rand. The technical qualifications for VP are pretty minimal; per, the following:
"The vice-president must be qualified to be President. According to the twelfth amendment of the Constitution, "no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States." In order to be President, a person must be a native-born citizen at least 35 years of age and a resident of the united states for at least 14 years. From a practical standpoint, candidates for vice-president are usually chosen to balance the ticket or to placate a faction of the party which lost its bid to choose the presidential nominee. The vice-presidential candidate may be chosen from a geographical or demographical area in which the presidential candidate seems weaker."
Ahh, the same qualifications as the President. That makes sense. Does young Ryan have what Americans expect from someone 'one heartbeat away' from the Presidency? That is debatable, even though not nearly as debatable as John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin! But, in the end, the electorate will decide in its wisdom who wins or loses. I believe the outcome will become known before the elections, just as Romney suspected he needed a boost similar to the 2008 'Hail Mary' that John McCain -an admitted risk taker- threw in such reckless desperation.

Ryan's selection does have certain contrasts and symmetry to it. Ideologically, he is similar to Romney. Both men have obsessive focus on money, budgets and business. But, Ryan is more candid and specific about details of his proposals, while Romney prefers a more secretive, vague and opportunistic pandering approach. Both men are well set financially, which casts serious doubt on their ability to legitimately empathize with those less fortunate. Romney claims business skills and success, but Ryan essentially has none; only 14 years in the House of Representatives - which still qualifies him for a life pension and benefits most people would envy. And, Wisconsin law allows him to run for re-election while also running for VP! Nice.

It is very interesting to speculate what may transpire when Congress has to address its enormous and growing deficit. Both Romney and Ryan like to criticize Obama and the Democrats for all our country's ills, and that's fair game, even though hyperbole reigns. 
Romney appears clueless about what to do, no doubt partly because he is so invested in tax loopholes himself, as a very rich man with knowledge of and access to the best legal and tax minds available on this planet. Can't risk upsetting that applecart, can we?

Ryan thinks he knows what to do and has come out with one grandiose plan after another, each one watered down because of justified resistance to only 'supply-side' economic approaches. He has had chances to support the Bowles-Simpson Plan, Congress's own deficit reduction sessions and the 'Gang of Six' ideas for compromise, but in each case has wimped out and refused to become part of even a partial substantial solution. How does that work out against his stated goals? My way or the highway? That ain't a solution either!

At this point, the Democrats do have some deficit leverage, but only if they use it! One sure way to get defense budget cuts to balance other necessary reductions is to simply let the US 'fall of the cliff' and not agree to any budget or deficit policy package until after next year. Then, assuming they still have a majority in the Senate, they could force concessions from Ryan and his cohorts to reinstate the Bush tax cuts and lower taxes on everyone except the wealthiest 1%, in exchange for other budget compromises. I hope they will do that, because that is the only message the R's are likely to respond to. Brinksmanship? Yes, but what is our real alternative to more stupid gridlock in Washington, DC?

Either Ryan beats the odds and becomes VP to his new adoptive father, Romney, or he retains his safe seat in Congress as a rising star with better experience, and an enhanced retirement benefit package. Can't beat that with a stick, can you? Particularly for a young right-wing ideologue with an atypical pleasing manner, who got temporarily unplugged from a fast track blaze of glory. Platoon leader, maybe; General, never!