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Forum Post: Focused Like a Laser on a Mirror Ball: How a Paul Ryan Fiasco Became Almost Unavoidable

Posted 1 year ago on Aug. 28, 2012, 9:14 a.m. EST by jph (2652)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

[ this is arguably a partisan post, something I often argue against. I post it as an object lesson to the partisan hacks that flood this forum with drivel about how great Obama is,. he is not. The Republicans are just way worse! ]

This is the Presidential Election that Republicans tried for three years to turn into a referendum on Barack Obama, It is rapidly becoming a referendum on the Republican Party instead. This is the Presidential Election that Republicans thought would be dominated by news about an anemic economic recovery and voter anxiety over stubborn unemployment numbers. Instead it has been dominated by news about Republican candidates and voter anxiety over the radical policy proposals they have embraced. Republicans worked so hard to set up this election on their chosen terms. What went wrong?

Instead of seeing a laser like focus on the economy, Americans watch the light show of a political party imploding. Pundits act surprised but they shouldn’t be. It’s been clear at least since the 2010 midterm elections that today’s Republican Party can’t be trusted with lasers. They don’t aim them where they say they will.

Remember “Jobs, jobs, jobs”, the Republican mid term mantra and proclaimed highest priority? Republicans never focused on job creation after their victory in 2010, and they never advanced an employment agenda either. The Republican laser instead focused on blaming Obama for a bad economy, even if that required blocking common sense initiatives Obama advanced to improve The Republican economic plan remained a retread of policies that gave us the Great Recession in the first place. Across the board tax cuts? That was tried before the Great Recession. Less government regulations? Republicans slashed those when they held the Presidency, and a less encumbered financial sector promptly crashed the world economy.

Simply put the Republican economic blue print is a hard one to sell, since only the wealthiest Americans actually benefit from it. So Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign sought to side step meaningful discussion about specific plans. After all, it doesn’t take a Keynesian to know that massive budget cuts don’t create jobs, yet slashing government spending is the only major new initiative Republicans have pushed since the demonstrably failed economic policies of George W. Bush’s administration.

Bottom line: Most Republican leaders never wanted a meaningful debate on either the economy or the budget (with the glaring exception of Paul Ryan who we will come to shortly). They only wanted a horrible economy to use against Obama. They might have gotten their wish had the euro zone collapsed this year as many were predicting, forcing the U.S. back into renewed recession. Paul Ryan wouldn’t be on the ticket today had that scenario materialized.

The Republican Congressional agenda revolved around obstruction in the Senate and distraction in the House, with all the hoopla several dozen attempts to repeal Obamacare plus myriad convoluted attacks on abortion could muster. While Republicans blamed Obama for a lack luster economy they deflected attention away from unsettling details of their own economic agenda. Balancing the budget is a relatively popular goal to advocate for, but far less so if it entails shredding the Middle Class safety net while preserving tax give-aways to Big Oil and rejecting the Buffet rule for millionaires.

Cue up the Republican Mirror Ball: Birthism? Check. Creeping Communism? Check. Sharia Law? Check. Obama’s Un-America Values? Check. Witch hunt for Voter Fraud ? Check. Anything other than a honest discussion about actual issues with real economic implications. Heading into summer Mitt Romney banked on a bad economy to effectively sink Obama. He campaigned on soothing sound bites with fill in the blank details, but mostly Romney blamed the President for everything that ails us. That was supposed to be enough to secure a Republican victory.

Paul Ryan though had his own personal agenda. His rise to prominence in the Republican Party was fueled by his reputation as a policy wonk, one who not only knew the numbers but was courageous enough to tabulate them in cold print on a national stage. For Paul Ryan substance, or at least the plausible appearance of it, is his political life blood.

The National Republican Party, the part not totally subsumed by the Tea Party at least, has a love hate relationship with Paul Ryan. They need Paul Ryan in order to appear credible in regards to budgetary policies. Without Ryan Republicans couldn’t wage scorched earth warfare for continuing huge tax cuts for the rich while portraying large budget deficits as leading to the inevitable downfall of America. Isn’t that a contradiction? Not to worry, Paul Ryan had a plan. Ryan crunched the numbers to support Republican bottom lines, and the Party preferred to just leave it at that. Don’t dwell on the pesky details.

Although the Paul Ryan budget has the added advantage of offering red meat to the Republican hard core base, it raises anxieties for voters outside that core when its provisions got looked at closely. In fact attacking the Ryan budget helped Democrats win seats in a string of special elections held after the 2010 mid term elections. The Democrats, it seems, needed Paul Ryan around as much as Republicans did; which is why most pundits never expected Mitt Romney to choose Paul Ryan as his running mate.

The Republican Mirror Ball helped keep voters from looking too closely at the Paul Ryan Budget, which Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans have all formally approved. 2012 was supposed to be a referendum on Obama, not on Republican plans to privatize Medicare and Social Security. That scheme failed for two reasons. The first one is straight forward. The economic recovery under President Obama is still ongoing, albeit at a disappointing anemic rate. Had the U.S. economy begun retracting again, had a much feared double dip recession taken hold before the November elections, Republicans had good reason to believe Obama would be toast. All Romney had to do to win under that scenario was stay out of jail.

But Republicans weren’t counting on a literal U.S. fall back into recession to propel them back into the White House. A year ago they gladly would have forfeited that contingency if they somehow could have locked in an 8,3% unemployment rate for August of 2012. Republicans sowed the seeds of their own pending destruction by underestimating the American electorate.

Mitt Romney essentially thought all he had to do to defeat Barack Obama for President under prevailing circumstances was to present himself to voters as a successful businessman who “knew how the economy worked”. He stood as “Other” on a multiple choice question that had Barack Obama as the only alternate option. But it turns out the American people were resistant to the placebo effect. They actually wanted to understand more about the pill they were being asked to swallow. When they went looking for answers both Mitt Romney in specific, and Republicans in general, had precious few to offer.

Americans saw a presidential candidate tied to anti-gay and anti-immigrant positions in a Party beset by Birthers. And Americans weren’t ready to accept that one and a half years worth of tax returns was all they needed to see from a man who had amassed a fortune north of 250 million dollars while gaming the system to his personal advantage. They also didn’t go along with Romney’s logic that details about his economic plans were better left to be revealed and discussed after the November election.

Voters wondered where Mitt Romney stood on anything because he showed a disturbing ability to change his positions on everything whenever political winds shifted throughout his career. They saw a politician who either lacked in substance and convictions, or one who lacked enough faith in the voters to reveal either his core convictions or the real substance of his policy agenda.

Mitt Romney didn’t want to choose Paul Ryan as his Vice Presidential choice, Romney had to choose Paul Ryan. Ryan was the antidote to the downward spiral of the failed narrative that Mitt Romney’s campaign had become. Most voters accept that Paul Ryan, unlike Mitt Romney, actually has core convictions. Most voters believe that Paul Ryan, unlike Mitt Romney, actually welcomes public scrutiny of his policy proposals. Most voters think that Paul Ryan, unlike Mitt Romney, is willing to openly face controversy to advocate for measures he believes our nation needs. Mitt Romney needed to associate himself with someone like Paul Ryan to restore his credibility as a potential leader of the nation.

There are just two major problems with Mitt Romney’s VP pick strategy. The more the American people learn about Paul Ryan’s actual proposals and convictions, the less they like them. They actually strongly reject many of them but Mitt Romney owns them all now, since he personally picked Ryan from a plethora of VP options. Unless, of course, Mitt Romney forces Paul Ryan to disassociate himself from his own proposals and convictions, and become more like Romney himself. But that just brings us back to square one and negates the reason for choosing Ryan. Except today’s square one is even more toxic for Romney than the one from early July, since Democrats will make damn sure that voters know exactly what Paul Ryan stands for, and the sight of Mitt Romney running away from his chosen running mate does not build confidence in his leadership.

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