Katrina vanden Heuvel
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Opinion Writer

Paul Ryan: Cruel, not courageous

A word of advice: If you’re announcing the most radical and reactionary Republican ticket in half a century, don’t do it on a ship named for the birthplace of progressivism, to Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”

But that is precisely the kind of audacity congressman-turned-vice presidential-nominee Paul Ryan brings to the flailing Romney campaign. Courage! Vision! And that hair! (Within minutes of the announcement, @VPRyansCowlick boasted dozens of follicle-fixated followers.)

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.

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Ryan is the rare Washington pseudo-wonk described by serious people of both parties in the adulatory terms typically reserved for battlefield heroics. “Courageous.” “Politically gutsy.” Author of “the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal” — wait for it — “in our lifetimes.” He is Jimmy Stewart, if Mr. Smith had spent less time establishing a boys’ camp and more time pretending to pay down the debt, one food stamp at a time.

Therein lies the rub. Ryan’s budget isn’t courageous — it’s just cruel. Three-fifths of the cuts he wants would hit those with low incomes, while those who have the most would continue getting more. It’s no wonder the former altar boy has had his knuckles rapped by a group of nuns for peddling a budget that “rejects church teaching about solidarity, inequality, the choice for the poor, and the common good.”

Ryan’s claim to courage — beating up on the poor notwithstanding — lies in his supposed willingness to tackle tough fiscal issues without obfuscation or sugar-coating. This would be admirable – if it were not utter nonsense. He preaches the need for austerity while refusing to touch defense spending. He doesn’t specify which tax loopholes would be eliminated to pay for massive tax cuts. He voted against stimulus to help the whole country, but for the auto bailout to help his own congressional district.

Still, it’s true that on pages 44-47 of Ryan’s so-called “Path to Prosperity” plan, you can read exactly what he intends to do with Medicare. Pages 50-54 explain his plans for tax reform. There are giant gimmicks and plenty is left unsaid, of course. But, yes, technically it is a plan, outlined in black and white and illustrated with colorful graphs and charts.

Is that courageous? Not on the level of, say, our returning veterans, for whom Ryan’s budget would slash support by 13 percent. No, he is remarkable only because — unlike the man at the top of the ticket, who is a shameless cipher — Ryan isn’t hiding the ball. Instead, he’s hitting struggling Americans in the face with it.

But however courageous you consider a congressman for actually revealing his policy preferences, Ryan’s blueprint — now the blueprint for the entire Republican Party — is profoundly uncourageous in its implications for the vast majority of the country.

Under Ryan’s plan, the wealthiest 1 percent would get a massive tax break. Meanwhile, Medicare would be privatized, leaving seniors with vouchers that could never keep up with rising health-care costs. It would slash programs helping struggling families stay afloat, such as food stamps and housing assistance, by nearly a trillion dollars over the next decade. Education and employment training — vital to our nation’s future — would be cut by a third. Ryan, whose great-grandfather founded a large road construction company, would spend 25 percent less than President Obama rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure. And since gutting Medicaid and Medicare isn’t enough, he would also repeal the president’s health-care law, leaving tens of millions of people uninsured.

Cue the fanfare.

Recently, voters in focus groups refused to believe anyone would propose such a vicious plan. Back when the GOP retained a modicum of humanity, even many Republicans were shocked by how far Ryan went. In polls, people of both parties recoil from his proposal to end Medicare as we know it.

It is a plan, as the recently departed Gore Vidal said of Ayn Rand’s philosophy that so influenced Ryan, “nearly perfect in its immorality.” Ryan’s extremism bleeds into social issues. He saluted the troops on the deck of the USS Wisconsin, but voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He has repeatedly voted for defunding Planned Parenthood and letting hospitals refuse emergency abortion care, even when a mother’s life is in danger. The right to love whom you want or to make decisions about your own body are not, apparently, among the rights that Ryan believes “nature and God” gave us.

In short, beneath that Ken doll head of hair, behind the carefully cultivated image of a brave pseudo-policy wonk, lies a cruel ideologue. And it’s Ryan’s GOP now.

 
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