On Friday night, NBC reported that Mitt Romney had selected Paul Ryan (R-The Munsters) to be his running mate. They spoiled the surprise by half a day, but Team Romney just claimed they'd outfoxed the media anyway. This was their message when confronted with a no-longer secret rollout of the candidate: "Nuh-uh."
In a way, though, it was fitting, because almost everything you're told about Paul Ryan is a fantasy either massaged by right-wing commentators or generated by media omission, so why not make his announcement one too?
The word "guru" is already a pretty meaningless distinction, so it seems especially gratuitous that so many pundits ritually abuse it by applying it to Paul Ryan. Any idiot with a prayer mat and the willingness to look like he shaves in the dark can be a guru if he's willing to maintain the facade long enough. Ryan's claim to guru-ship is a document that can't even maintain the facade internally, on its own terms.
Ryan's Budget Roadmap holds budget neutrality and "taxing
the American aristocracy 'job creators' as little as possible" as the optimum condition for the American economy, regardless of circumstance. Unfortunately, its budget neutrality isn't projected to actually go into effect for the next 28 years, while its current version contains $4.6 trillion of budgetary mystery meat that Paul Krugman calls "pink slime economics." It's a giant hole in the budget that Ryan says will be offset by... well, ahahaha, good luck figuring that one out. In the meantime, though, unless you're a millionaire, everything else about the budget is going to fuck you.
Look, if incanting the same words over and over qualifies you for being some kind of expert, any one of us could go to a public park and find an authority on the CIA so intimidatingly informed that it would turn Harlot's Ghost white. Paul Ryan evinces a total unconcern with the pain, poverty and illness of millions of people, while spending years shouting meaningless, disjointed numbers unfettered by reality. For any average citizen, that would be a strong indicator of crippling autism. In Washington, you're a guru. Um....
Until recently, the standard Paul Ryan profile was "GURU"+"REGULAR GUY." He goes noodlin' catfish. He likes the Green Bay Packers. Makes his own bratwurst. When it's hot out, his skin gets moist. When he talks in public, his skin gets moist. He is a moist-American. Look at that guy lubricate out there.
Then there was the matter of his dad dying. Ryan learned lessons, met grief head-on, pulled himself up by his bootstraps, then went out and job-created for himself—at McDonald's, of all places. What wasn't heavily reported until recently is that the man who wants to gut the social safety net found himself in circumstances so dire that he pocketed Social Security survivor's benefits for over a year, then went to out-of-state college. Later, his private sector work amounted to resume padding arranged through family owned businesses. The guy whose mantra is that government is the problem has devoted his life to it since 1991, spending 13 years on its payroll.
Ryan's net worth averages $4.9 million, thanks to his wife and his inheritance from the family construction business, which amassed its fortunes through building government-subsidized railroads and filling government highway and defense contracts. Although some of his money does come from oil investments! Perhaps, then, it's a coincidence that Ryan votes to preserve oil subsidies while trying to eliminate deficits by sending grandma out to give handjobs for Coumadin.
You could see the phoniness of the whole "regular guy" image during his acceptance speech, when Ryan ran out in jacket, slacks, shirt and no tie. His look was meant to suggest that here was a young, fresh fellow, but the whole image was so forced. It's only arguably the second most important job in the world: do like the rest of Washington and pick the red tie or the blue tie. It's just a guess, but the natural reaction of a truly regular guy in that circumstance is probably, "HOLY FUCKING SHIT, WHAT DO I WEAR? MY SUIT? BUT THE LAST TIME I WORE THAT WAS AT THAT JULY OUTDOOR WEDDING. IT LOOKS LIKE AN ACCORDION AND SMELLS LIKE WET DOG. THERE'S BABY PUKE CLOGGING UP THE BUTTONHOLE."
Instead, you were supposed to imagine that the tie just never happened because he's so darned energetic. Maybe he took that tie off when he was sitting with a legal pad writing down real serious budget wonk stuff like, "A billion dollars," "12 percent," "CATS" and "make your time." Maybe the tie was in danger of droppin' into the "crick" and gettin' bitten off by that crafty ol' catfish General Sherman.
He's a New Voice
He's not. Since Ronald Reagan, the definition of a deficit hawk is little more than "a Republican with a Democratic president." Ryan voted for the Bush tax cuts right before voting for Bush's war in Iraq and Bush's unfunded Medicare Part D mandate. And, when the economy went to hell for rich people, he voted for the Wall Street bailout. (Look, there's even a nice chart.) When the economy was running a surplus, we didn't need to save money to assure Social Security or Medicare solvency for decades, we had to cut taxes immediately. Now that we're running huge deficits, we need to cut taxes immediately.
There's a way to describe this miracle cure that applies equally well to a humming economy and a crashing economy, and that's "a trojan horse to bring down the top [tax] rate." It was coined by another congressional budget guru, David Stockman, who took over the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan. Stockman was vilified like Ryan in his day, inspiring this Bloom County cartoon.
Stockman is relevant, because the former golden boy of Reaganomical top-rate slashing and social-program gutting took to the New York Times' op-ed page to denounce the vacuity of Ryan's budget plan and describe it as another iteration of over 30 years of GOP smoke and mirrors designed to reward the vastly wealthy, expand defense appropriations, preserve Wall Street from negative consequence and slash the safety net to make up the difference.
Paul Ryan's contempt for the welfare state and moral support for the upward distribution of America's wealth toward an unaccountable plutocracy is nothing new. The only thing that's changed are the circumstances used to justify it. And, really, they don't matter.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.