The Mother of all Gaffes

Mitt Romney’s naming of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be the vice presidential candidate on his ticket is nothing short of a debacle—for Romney, and for the nation. Ryan is fundamentally, ideologically opposed to most of the structure of the American democratic republic and its middle class economy. His budget plan is specifically designed to undo two centuries of social progress toward something resembling a democratic marketplace for middle class economics.

Under Ryan’s plan, Medicare “as we know it”, which is Medicare, will be eliminated and replaced with a “voucher” program—which means coupons—which will help ailing senior citizens purchase high-priced, unregulated private for-profit health insurance. Unregulated means: You can have your insurance revoked at any time, be denied treatment for any “pre-existing condition”, have your rates raised suddenly, dramatically, and prohibitively.

What is perhaps most shocking about Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan is that Romney’s two biggest problems with middle class independent voters have persistently (and ever more) been:

Romney has not helped in either of these areas by his words or actions:

It is not hyperbole to suggest that if this were Olympic badminton, Romney might be disqualified and/or fined for deliberately underperforming. His gaffes have become legend: in a glitz and glamor visit to London, just before the 2012 Summer Olympics, he insulted his hosts by suggesting they had not prepared as well as he did for the Salt Lake City games. He was denounced by the leaders of all three major parties in Britain and excoriated in the press.

In Israel, he managed to deeply offend both the people of Israel and the people of Palestine. His remarks in Israel were so charged with racial and cultural bias that critics across the world asked what kind of diplomatic leader Romney would be, if he were 1) unable to make friends with a conservative PM in London and 2) insensitive enough to outrage BOTH sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

(Consider the complexities of trade negotiations with China, Brazil… or Venezuela, for that matter. Or the mind-numbing frustrations implicit in all security and disarmament negotiations with Vladimir Putin’s perennial government of the Russian Federation. Or the very real and globally relevant nuances of discussions with EU ministers on issues of international debt and lending. Or Iran.)

He has offended working class NASCAR aficionados by suggesting he is one, because his friends own some of the top teams. He sought to curry favor with voters in his home state of Michigan by telling them the state was wonderful because its trees were “just the right height.” These were just a couple of the squirmy uncomfortable things he has said to attempt to sound like an everyman, each time giving the impression he would never want to be.

And now, he has made the mother of all gaffes: naming an ideological extremist, whose budget plan seems to ignore basic arithmetic and the real-world fate of hundreds of millions of American citizens in service of an unfounded economic philosophy loosely derived from the fiction of Ayn Rand. Ryan’s budget plan is so detrimental to working families and the middle class that his naming to the GOP ticket has raised the criticism that “Romneyhood” is a kind of reverse Robin Hood figure, aiming to take from the poor to give to the rich.

Paul Ryan’s tax plan would significantly expand the already unaffordable Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, giving as much as $300,000 per year to those earning $1 million, even as middle class Americans see benefits severely cut back and their tax burden increased. Chuck Marr writes that “A single mother with two kids struggling to make ends meet by working full-time at the minimum wage would lose $1,500 (over 80 percent) of her child tax credit.”

Also instrumental to Ryan’s budget overhaul would be the elimination of Pell Grants for over one million college students. This will have an unprecedented negative impact on the future earning potential of the entire American workforce, which means a radical reduction in consumer spending capacity, an opportunity-cost-driven decline in federal revenues, and a need to further cut services or increase taxes on the middle class.

The Paul Ryan Medicare replacement coupons would “save taxpayer money” by deliberately underfunding the insurance plans seniors would pay into; this would, in an unregulated marketplace, severely limit the range of treatment options available to already ailing seniors. We know from decades of analysis of hard economic reality that the impact of widespread underinsurance is higher costs throughout the system.

Perhaps even more dangerously, Paul Ryan’s plan to “reform” Social Security would eliminate the program and it replace it with a system of federally sanctioned private savings and investment accounts. The plan delivers a multi-trillion-dollar windfall to Wall Street firms, and gives the already wealthy an explicit advantage over those in need: with private savings accounts, the less you need the money you are earning for day-to-day expenses, the more you can put away—the wealthier you are, the stronger your government-backed financial safety net.

So, even as Mitt Romney makes clear that he is choosing a hero of the ideological far right, because he is afraid of appearing too moderate to conservative Republican voters, he is wedding his candidacy to a man that delivers literally no substantive benefit to his campaign, to his policy agenda or to the future economic health and wellbeing of the nation.

According to poll analysis from the Huffington Post, Pres. Obama is not only leading in the polls, but is on track to win at least 275 Electoral College votes, 5 more than he needs to win a second term in the White House, with Romney looking good for 191 points. A lot depends on turnout, and there is real concern that new laws in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin could bias the voting process toward Mitt Romney, or allocate Electoral College votes to him even if Obama carries the state handily.

What is unclear is whether Romney can really expect to do better in any “battleground states” as a result of his choosing Paul Ryan for VP. Romney, it is said, expects to be able to “rebrand” his campaign with the Ryan pick, even as he begins to attempt to distance himself from Ryan’s radical policy agenda, thanking him for his “effort” but talking of an entirely new budget plan of his own.

What neither Romney nor Ryan seem to understand about the American economic landscape is how “confidence” actually comes about in the Main Street economy. Both seem to believe it comes from giving free rein to the biggest enterprises, while putting the burden of “accountability” on the smallest Main Street shops and on individuals and families. But consumer and investor confidence comes from the idea that taking a risk is a win-win kind of decision: one is not going to wind up out on the street or denied cardiac care, if a business venture goes under.

Big enterprise, and big investors, feel this confidence, because they use diverse investment portfolios and a cushion of already-existing wealth, safeguarded by corporate status and favorable tax policies, to guarantee personal solvency and limited liability. Small businesses—those with fewer than 50 employees, or even fewer than 10—don’t have such luxury; the safety net Paul Ryan feels it is his “moral obligation” to dismantle assures a real foundation for economic confidence in the Main Street economy. In the Romney-Ryan economy, most Main Street businesses have little to no protection, and those who rely on them for goods and services will feel less confident about getting their money’s worth when they buy something.

Laissez-faire economics is a confidence vacuum, and it should concern all principled independent voters—those of us who favor real solutions, of the kind that don’t harm families and communities—that Mitt Romney is choosing a VP candidate who appears to favor precisely that kind of economy. The Main Street economy needs to be based on policies that favor a stable, educated and expanding middle class.

The odd choice of Paul Ryan just might make the Obama-Biden ticket the only serious choice for millions of working families, middle class independents and small-business owners. On the bright side, the Romney-Ryan ticket now means there will be a heated, and perhaps even exhaustive, public debate on real policy differences on real issues that affect real people directly.

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Originally published August 11, 2012, at


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