Monday, August 13, 2012

In Retreat, For Now

On Friday, anticipating Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate, The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza commented

But the good thing about the Ryan pick is that the Presidential campaign will instantly turn into a very clear choice between two distinct ideologies that genuinely reflect the core beliefs of the two parties. And in that sense, Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan is good news for voters.

Following Saturday's announcement, Salon's Joan Walsh made a similar point when she remarked

Ryan’s selection by Mitt Romney is a huge gift to Barack Obama and Joe Biden – and to the country. This is a clear electoral choice, with the potential for a rousing debate about the future of our country. Romney has spent two years refusing to tell us what he’d do as president. He’s literally said on more than one occasion that he won’t reveal his plans for specific program cuts, because if he did, people might not vote for him. But now he’s tied to a guy who’s revealed his pro-plutocrat agenda in bloody detail. What Obama this week called “Romneyhood” – Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor and giving to the rich – is best described as “Ryanhood.” Ryan’s budget is so devastating to the poor and middle class that it earned him a rebuke from the nation’s Catholic Bishops, the first time in memory they’ve entered politics for any reason but to deny women freedom and promote Republicans.

A skeptical Tristero, blogging at Digby's Hullabaloo, responded Saturday to Lizza

It would be nice if that were true. But Randism isn't so much an ideology as it's a cult, roughly akin to Scientology. Randism has as much intellectual integrity as intelligent design creationism or birtherism. As a result, "two distinct ideologies" aren't at play. There is only one: centrism, represented by Obama. What Romney and Ryan offer is just battiness, not a truly coherent vision...

Then on Sunday, Tristero reacted similarly to Walsh:

Ayn Rand's crackpot notions have now moved to the exact center of the national debate about what kind of country we should be, with an unprecedented level of visibility.

I don't want "a rousing debate about the future of our country" between centrist/moderate and extreme rightwing presidential candidates. I want a serious debate between liberal and conservative (in the Rockefeller/Eisenhower meaning of the term) presidential candidates about the future of our country.

Besides unfairly equating intelligent design with birtherism, Tristero gave insufficient credit to Walsh, who noted "Ryan’s addition to the GOP ticket makes the choice between Republicans and Democrats crystal clear. As long as Democrats remember that they’re Democrats."    Tristero worries some Democrats may not remember they're Democrats, most notably President Obama whom, The New York Times recently reported  

has come to believe the news media have had a role in frustrating his ambitions to change the terms of the country’s political discussion. He particularly believes that Democrats do not receive enough credit for their willingness to accept cuts in Medicare and Social Security, while Republicans oppose almost any tax increase to reduce the deficit.

Still, aside from hanging, nothing focuses the mind like a desire to be re-elected and even Barack Obama, accurately if uncomfortably, will portray the Gas and Oil Party as targeting Medicare and Social Security.   The selection of Ryan was, nevertheless, not as bold as the congressman's worshipers and the news media suggest it was.

Consider that Mitt Romney's announcement was made before the national convention.   On a Saturday morning.   During the Olympics.   And far from wanting to sharpen ideological differences, Romney on Saturday chose to muddy the waters.   "Unlike the current president," he stated, "who has cut Medicare funding by $700 billion, we will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security."

When Republicans such as Romney, who opposes the defense cuts scheduled in the budget sequester, dishonestly attack the President for cuts in defense, they do not declare a determination to "preserve and protect national defense."   They want to bolster national defense, as do the President and Democrats; Medicare and Social Security, not so much (or at all).   Talking Point Memo's Sahil Kapur, observing GOP criticism of Obama's Medicare cuts, commented

The trouble with this argument — made frequently by Republicans, including Ryan himself — is that Republicans have voted overwhelmingly for Ryan’s own budget which sustains the Medicare cuts in “Obamacare.” Conservatives argue that Ryan’s plan, unlike the Affordable Care Act, doesn’t use the Medicare savings to fund additional spending.

Talking points circulated by the Romney campaign Saturday similarly instruct surrogates to make the “Obama cut Medicare” argument to blunt voters’ fears over Ryan’s Medicare plan.

Romney- who earlier endorsed the Ryan budget- neglects to mention, as Kapur points out, that the decrease in Medicare funding is not in benefits, but primarily in reduced payments to hospitals, discounts on Medicaid prescription drugs, and pay cuts to private insurers under Medicare Advantage.  

While Romney introduces the guy who enthralls the right partly because he wants to cut off the elderly at the knees, he slams the President because of a relatively paltry cut to the Medicare program.      It is the same Mitt Romney who, seeking an edge in the nomination process, allied himself with the Ryan plan and now, having chosen its architect to be second in line for the presidency, is qualifying  his support.   On Sunday, asked by CBS News' Bob Schieffer about "Paul Ryan's budget plan," Romney replied "well, I have my budget plan as you  know that I've put out.   And that's the budget plan that we're going to run on."

In so doing, Romney was being Romney- splitting the difference, hedging his bets, trying to have it both ways, and enabling a cliche-obsessed blogger.   He puts Ryan on the ticket, then throws his budget (sort of) overboard.  He slams Obama's cuts to Medicare, then says he wants to raise the eligibility age for "those of us who are younger," as he told Schieffer.    It may be characteristic Mitt Romney; but bold, it is not.

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