I try not to blog too much about horserace-politics, who's going to win what office and so on, because there are so many people doing a better job of it than I can. I'm more interested in issues than races anyway. But the recent announcement of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate has me thinking deep thoughts.
Paul Ryan is White, rather boring in a lot of ways, and from a heartland state (Wisconsin). That's about all I know about him, to be honest. (There's obviously the Ryan Budget, but I'll get to that in a minute.) The very fact that Romney chose someone who looks so much like him on the surface is very interesting in a lot of ways, since presidents often pick VP candidates who round out their platform's appeal, or at least come from a major state they need to carry. I really expected Romney to pick Mark Rubio from Florida on both counts, actually. The fact that Mitt Romney thought the group he needed to shore up support with wasn't in the middle but on his own party's flank pains a rather nasty picture, at least for me.
The one thing Paul Ryan really is known for, I think, is the Ryan budget – the proposed House budget he has proposed over the last few years. In more progressive circles, it's a pretty well established fact that this budget leans on those least able to bear up under the weight: the poor, the elderly, etc., but in the few days since Ryan was announced as VP, I've seen several Republicans try to defend the budget. I'll give Ryan credit where credit's due, in having at least proposed a budget, and one that takes American debt. The way he's set about doing this makes it both bad policy IMO but, more importantly, a completely unrealistic attempt at wrangling the debt down.
I wanted to point you guys to an unbiased source on the budget, but with the media in full-out spin mode, I can't find one. I thought instead that I'd pick out points from Paul Ryan's own presentation of the budget, on the House website, followed by my commentary. Italics are the website's wording; everything else is my comment.
- Ryan claims his plan strips unaccountable Washington bureaucrats of their rationing power, puts patients in control of their health care decisions instead of government, and forces providers to compete for the right to serve seniors. By "Washington bureaucrats" he's talking about the Independent Payment Advisory Board here, but I think it's worth noting that by forc[ing] providers to compete for the right to serve seniors – really requiring seniors to use private companies – he's throwing them to the mercy of even more unaccountable bureaucrats with rationing powers, those used by individual health insurance companies.
- On the military, he claims that the U.S. military is threatened by uncontrolled debt burden that weakens America – but defense spending is not the driver of the debt burden. That's a bit hard to swallow, given that we had a balanced budget under Clinton and the (unpaid) cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I'm not saying this is our soldiers' fault, or that we shouldn't pay for their support during and care after these wars. But my impression is that these wars, along with the Bush tax cuts are a major cause of the deficit.
- Ryan claims that the free enterprise system is being stifled by an epidemic of crony politics and government overreach that has weakened confidence in the nation's institutions and its economy. No one likes it when government gives tax dollars to governments rather than to citizens, and I'd be okay with less of that, especially where it doesn't serve some specific and non-economic motive like encouraging clean energy development. But don't tell me that when people complain about crony politics, that's what they're upset over? Speaking for myself, I'm much more bothered by industries not being judged by the law, and the turnover between corporate America and the people who write the regulations governing it. If you want me to trust "the nation's institutions and its economy," then provide a fair marketplace and when companies break the rules actually make them pay (in years, not fines).
- One place the budget really fights against spending is "discretionary" spending – in opposition to programs like Medicare (which the law says have to be funded at certain level, these are programs that aren't guaranteed funding. The Ryan budget better focuses other low-income assistance programs, including food stamps, to those that need them most, implying that the people making use of food stamps, housing assistance, and other such program now don't need them. He says the same thing about grant programs to help low-income students pay tuition, by the way. The implication I keep seeing is that the poor aren't really poor. But with food stamps at least, that doesn't seem to be the case – as the International Business Times points out, "Most households (85 percent have income that is below the poverty line ($23,050 for a family of four in 2012)."
I could go on. As I'm sure you can see, I'm no great fan of the budget. But let's just say for argument's sake that Ryan's defenders are right and it actually is a good budget. I'm sure that you can see even based on the language Ryan uses to describe it why he's in favor of exposing average Americans to an unrestricted marketplace and that he thinks the poor in particular don't really deserve the "benefits" they get right now. I actually think there are some things he gets right; I for one wouldn't mind seeing Medicare premiums tied to the senior's income, or simplifying taxes if it was done in a way that actually raised the revenue needed. But even if I was convinced that the budget was a good one, the language it's presented in is poisonous and harsh toward those people who aren't also corporations.
That in itself would be a message I wasn't comfortable with. But it gets worse when you juxtapose it against some comments Romney made a few weeks ago on his trip to Israel. He said of the Israelis:
If you could learn anything from the economic history of the world, it's this: Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over [Jerusalem] and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognise the power of at least culture and a few other things.
This comment was been just as… shall we just say "inflammatory" as you'd expect. A lot of people are pointing to the restrictions on trade and import into the Palestinian areas, which makes it nearly impossible to run a business. I think there's something to that, personally. Whatever you may think of the security reasons for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, I can't imagine it not having a big effect on economic realities. But even more than that, I think we can point to American support of Israel (both governmental and through private charities), and the fact that Israel is really the only country in the region that didn't suffer through European colonization. Of course Palestine was a British protectorate once upon a time, but the Jews came in after all that, so if we're talking about cultures here, I'd say they're the one group that's not been distorted by outsiders stealing their resources and dignity for several years.
Not according to Romney. It's their culture. They deserve their wealth and prosperity.
Here's the thing: no one does it all on their own. And no moment in history is distinct from the things that happen before. We all benefit from other people's good choices and luck, or suffer from their bad ones. It's not just luck and hard work plays a role; but the poor are also working hard. This whole idea that I deserve my good fortune more than the person on welfare strikes me as absurd, and it gets absurder and absurder the more often I hear it. That doesn't mean I'm not thankful for my success or that I don't work hard for it. But the fact that I'm intelligent and middle-class and white does mean I get breaks and opportunities denied to others. I get that. It's not all because I'm a better person, any more than someone else's lack of wealth proves that they're somehow "bad" or "lazy."
The fact that we have a presidential ticket now whose two members have effectively said "the rich deserve what they get" and "the poor get more help than they deserve" – that's disheartening to me in so many ways. As an American, as a Christian, and perhaps most importantly as a member of the human race, it disgusts me.
It's also just not true. I wanted to be on record saying that.