The least popular member of the Romney/Ryan ticket is back—but he never really went away.
Paul Ryan is about the same age as Richard Nixon was when Tricky Dick was nominated to be Eisenhower’s running mate. And though Eisenhower/Nixon won, easily — twice — you can expect that Tricky Paul is going to linger over the American political scene for as long as Dick did.
The formerly proudly Randian congressman went from being hidden for much of the last few weeks of the presidential campaign to being hidden as a member of the leadership team that couldn’t get House Republicans to pass Speaker Boehner’s “Plan B” to resolve the “fiscal cliff.”
But when it came time to pass the Senate’s negotiated compromise bill, he did the same thing he did when it came time to pass George W. Bush’s unfunded Medicare, TARP and the auto rescue. Paul Ryan couldn’t hide. He voted yes.
And the far right noticed.
Thus ends the Paul Ryan 2016 Presidential Exploratory Committee.
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 2, 2013
But Ryan is always looking ahead.
Like many white men in their forties, Ryan thinks listening to music that came out in the 70s and working out makes him endlessly relevant. So you knew that the congressman from Wisconsin would continue to march down the well-traveled path of constantly pandering to the right, yet voting with the establishment on the rare occasions when votes matter.
Within days of his “fiscal cliff” cave, after Ryan’s other 2016 rival, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), roasted Speaker Boehner and the House Republicans for delaying aid to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, Ryan was back. He voted no with the rest of the Tea Partiers who believe hurricanes are God’s way of saying, “Be rich!”
There’s the Paul Ryan the far right loves — the Paul Ryan who doesn’t believe that the government should be there to help people in need. The Paul Ryan who thinks that poor kids who want to do trivial things like “eat” and “see a doctor” are hurt by receiving aid, because before you know it, they’ll be lounging on the safety “hammock.”
When Republicans accuse the left of class warfare and nurturing jealousy, consider how Paul Ryan views the poor. He suggests they’re leading lives of “dependency and complacency” (as if big oil and defense contractors are not). To him, the problem is that the poor have it too easy. And he can fix that.
Remember that the Ryan budget – his masterpiece, his Atlas Shrugged that would allow the rich to go Galt as the poor sink down into pre-New Deal squalor — would cut funding by 62 percent for disaster aid and insurance as part of the biggest transfer of wealth from poor and middle class to the rich in modern U.S. history.
But Ryan knew that his Club for Growth-approved vote against Sandy aid wasn’t enough to get back in the good graces of the Tea Partiers who learned to love Mitt Romney because Paul Ryan played such a convincing Boy Reagan.
Just days before Ryan’s colleague Phil Gingrey explained what Todd Akin got right about “legitimate rape,” Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill Akin would have loved – the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which asserts that human life begins the moment a sperm winks at an egg, basically.
This bill resembles another personhood amendment that couldn’t even pass in Mississippi, a state so far right that you can be cited for even thinking about making a left-hand turn. These fetal-personhood bills have been deeemed unconstitutional and would make abortion illegal in all cases – even when the life of the mother is at stake.
And BAM!, just over a week after his presidential hopes had been declared dead, Romney’s running mate was announced as the keynote speaker of the Burning Man of the conservative movement — CPAC.
Ryan – like the new head of the Heritage Foundation and former senator Jim Demint — believes that deeply unpopular policies like fetal-personhood bills aren’t the Republicans’ problem. The problem is how you talk about them — as if there is a palatable way to explain that a woman should be forced to have her rapist’s baby and then give him visitation rights.
Actually, Paul Ryan has already figured out how to talk about deeply unpopular issues — you focus on where people agree with you. He’s the master of ginning up anger at “spending” when we have a jobs crisis and cutting spending would kill jobs. Thus Ryan focuses on “life,” knowing that a majority of Americans call themselves pro-life, even though two-thirds support the Roe v. Wade decision.
So shouldn’t Ryan’s shiftiness and willingness to vote with the establishment when it matters indicate he isn’t as scary as the far right of his party?
No. Ryan’s long view — his devotion to his agenda — is single-minded, despite occasional compromises. He knows America is one or two Supreme Court justices away from overturning Roe v. Wade and he’ll be trying to be the president that makes that happen for the next 30 years.
Sinclair Lewis often is accused of saying, “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Call me an American Exceptionalist, but I don’t think fascism will ever come to all of America.
But I think it already exists for the poor, who generally lead lives of dismal servitude to their bills with their rights and opportunities effectively legislated out of existence.
Paul Ryan would add to that oppression by taking away what little help and freedom of choice the poor now have – and he’ll do it in either hiding or plain view — wrapped in a flag, carrying a cross and listening to AC/DC on his iPod.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer