The classic line about Newt Gingrich, the architect of the strategy of rigid partisan obstruction that has rendered problem-solving virtually impossible, was that “He’s a stupid man’s idea of what a smart man sounds like.” * Newt, now pasty, blubbery and entirely beholding to a casino owner who could soon be in very deep (and long overdue) trouble for padding his fortune with the help of Chinese gangsters, has finally been dismissed from the public stage. (Not that the Beltway talk shows won’t continue to trumpet an “exclusive” with a guy more familiar with a microphone than a light salad.)
It took over 30 years for America’s political/media culture to work the wisdom of Newt Gingrich through its system. But even before he was properly deposited and disposed of, his replacement has stepped in to the spotlight. I speak of course of Paul Ryan, for whom the famous Gingrich quote applies … in spades.
PX90-trim, jut-jawed, clear-eyed and armed with a cherry-picked “understanding” of Ayn Rand, Ryan is very much Gingrich’s spawn. He is, like Gingrich, a man who sounds informed, serious and authoritative despite the uncomfortable fact that his visionary notions for solving The Big Problems … don’t really make any sense once you put paper, pencil or computer to the numbers and get into even superficial detail about … the details. It’s not quite a lunar colony — which would actually have more of a pump-priming quality job creation benefit — but’s it’s nearly as unrealistic.
But for a party, the modern GOP, that has a kind of “Project Runway” response to candidates who look like the characters they are supposed to be –Mitt Romney, job creating businessman who looks like a Hollywood president and now Paul Ryan, serious student of hard numbers from humble origins with matinée-idol appeal — Ryan is a dream candidate. Or rather a “dreamy” candidate.
Ryan’s various budget ideas will get picked apart like a dead deer on a hot Wisconsin highway in the next few weeks. This may be illuminating for those who have no idea who he is or what he’s been talking about and why the GOP cognoscenti (FoxNews, Michelle Malkin, Limbaugh) has such a crush on him. For others, who know about how the Congressional Budget Office scored his budget (which he insisted they judge based on a vast number of closed tax loopholes and cuts… that he did not specify), it’s enough to keep in mind a few key bits of information that wreak havoc with Ryan’s approved personal narrative.
1: He’s “courageous”. In the same way that perpetually campaigning on “cutting taxes” is the single easiest, least courageous thing any politician could ever do, Ryan’s career to date is built on never proposing or seriously countering any tax or legislative initiative supported by this country’s enfranchised financial elite. An act of “courage” would be to have at some moment, as a “serious” thinker, found something somewhere that might have readjusted the tax burden away from the middle-class and on to those around whom money has pooled like fast-rising flood water since the Bush cuts of 2003.
All of his “serious” talk to town halls in southern Wisconsin involve selling middle-class voters on the idea that times are very tough, and it is their patriotic duty to accept sacrifices … none of which are required from the people who have supported him through the entire adult working life he has spent in Congress, mastering the game of modern politics.
2: He’s a “deficit hawk”. Again, were he a true hawk and not merely a hyper-partisan in the Gingrich mold, he would have leaped at the so-called “grand bargain” in last year’s budget talks … but didn’t because to have voted for something that would have so significantly cleaned up the country’s books — post the Bush-Cheney era where Ryan voted for every budget-busting war and idea that crowd of drunken sailors came up with — would have facilitated Barack Obama’s reelection. There is no “courage” or pragmatic patriotism, or seriousness in capitulating to every act of partisan obstruction required from party leaders … who are essentially nothing more than circus dogs for their heavy-lobbying financial masters.
3: He’s a “rising star”. On this point there is no doubt. Ryan is on the ticket because of his appeal to voters for whom the appearance and sound of “seriousness” is good enough, and certainly better than anything said by a Kenyan Muslim socialist. Who the Tea Party crowd was going to vote for, if not Mitt Romney, I have no idea. But I doubt they needed Paul Ryan to vote against Barack Obama. Still, Ryan, assuming he leaves the ring in November with only character-enhancing scars from his run with Romney, is very much the modern GOP’s answer to Wally Pipp. In fact, in the event of a Romney loss, you can already hear the worst of the hyper-partisan zealots caterwauling that “we had the wrong guy at the top of the ticket”.
What I do like is that Ryan has been in Team Obama’s sights for quite a while. A shrewd read of what today’s GOP regards as a courageous rising star. I doubt they were surprised or unprepared for Ryan, and considering the gift he provides in terms of his re-design of Medicare and Medicaid and the focus he restores on the modern GOP’s concept of an equitable balance of balance to the 1% and everyone else, I suspect they are delighted to see Ryan, spawn of Newt, take that act back on the national trail.
Oh, and BTW, today on the campaign trail, Ryan will give a speech on the economy and all the tough choices middle-class Americans are going to have to make … then stop by the Venetian Hotel and Casino for a meeting with the aforementioned friend of Chinese mobsters, Sheldon Adelson, Newt’s one-man deep pocket and now devoted to bankrolling Mitt Romney.
The courage is breathtaking.
* Paul Krugman.