Here’s something both sides can agree upon: Paul Ryan’s budget — whose broad strokes have been endorsed by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney — represents the GOP’s main offering in the big ideological argument that will decide this election and frame the big choice Americans face about the future of the country.
Whether you call it “radical,” or “bold and courageous” (the terms favored by conservatives), the Ryan plan is more than a budget. It’s a set of priorities, and a vision — of the rightful distribution of wealth and the tax burden, and of government’s proper role in guarding against the excesses of unfettered free market capitalism — that will constitute the foundation of the GOP case this fall.
In a speech today, President Obama will treat it as exactly that. And he’ll attack it pretty aggressively, describing it as “radical” and “thinly-veiled social Darwinism.” From the prepared remarks:
“In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled-down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class. That’s how a generation who went to college on the GI Bill, including my grandfather, helped build the most prosperous economy the world has ever known. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so they could buy the cars that they made. That’s why studies have shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run....
“This Congressional Republican budget, however, is something different altogether. It’s a Trojan Horse. Disguised as deficit reduction plan, it’s really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It’s nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism. It’s antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everyone who’s willing to work for it — a place where prosperity doesn’t trickle down from the top, but grows outward from the heart of the middle class. And by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training; research and development — it’s a prescription for decline.”
These remarks seem designed to check a number of boxes. First, Obama is arguing that combatting inequality is not only essential as a matter of basic fairness, but because inequality hampers economic growth — a case he hasn’t made as effectively as he might.
Second, Obama isn’t just attacking the conservative economic vision as “radical”; he’s making the case that it has already failed us. If Romney is able to persuade the electorate of his basic economic competence — a real possibility — the election could turn on Obama’s ability to persuade the electorate that we’ve already tried the “trickle down” solutions Romney is offering, and that they simply haven’t worked.
Third, the election will turn partly on voters’ gut sense of which man has a clearer sense of where the country and the world are headed — hence the indictment of the Ryan/Romney lack of investment in education and research. The oft-repeated phrase “an economy that’s built to last” advances two arguments designed to make the election about something more than the state of the economy on Election Day 2012: Republican solutions have historically left the economy and country on a flimsy foundation; and they demonstrate no concrete vision for the future.
Obama’s speech will likely be greeted by a great deal of whining about its “negative” and “partisan” tone. But politics is supposed to be about an aggressive clash of visions, and it looks like that’s exactly what we’re going to get today.
* Obama campaign hits Romney over gas prices: The Obama campaign is up with a new ad in six swing states that hits back against conservative groups attacking Obama for high gas prices — and it directly attacks Romney, another sign the general election is underway:
The ad argues that the real reason Big Oil is attacking Obama is that he wants to end its tax breaks and is pushing for more investments in renewal energy. The spot is an effort to shift the discussion from gas prices — where Obama may be vulnerable to GOP attacks designed to deprive him for credit for the recovery — to a broader conversation about our energy future, turf which may be more favorable to him.
* No end to Romney’s dissembling on gas prices: Good for the New York Times for devoting a stand alone piece to Romney’s latest dissembling: Though he regularly attacks Obama for supposedly wanting high gas prices, he wrote approvingly in his 2010 book that higher energy prices would encourage efficiency and wean us off foreign oil. If only news orgs would include these facts in their write-ups every time Romney repeats this stuff.
Also: As Steve Benen notes, Romney’s other flip flopping on gas prices and other energy matters would also seem to complicate his ability to remain coherent on these issues.
* Paul Ryan for Veep! Josh Kraushaar says Ryan’s invaluable help to Romney in Wisconsin (whose primary is today) means the Romney camp is giving serious thought to this possiblity.
Dems, of course, would rejoice at having the architect of the GOP plan to end Medicare as we know it on the ticket. It’s another measure of the fact that both sides remain utterly convinced that Ryan, and the larger vision he represents, plays in their favor.
* The Ryan approach has already failed us: A big read from David Cay Johnston on how trickle-down economics has already proven a failure and on the easy ways we could fix our fiscal problems if one party would stop protecting the interests of the super rich.
* Romney’s Latino problem: Michael Gerson gets it right, noting that Romney’s opposition to the DREAM Act and other positions have badly compromised any GOP hopes of capitalizing on Obama’s own less-than-stellar immigration record.
But again, Gerson misstates the nature of the problem. It isn’t just that Romney has embraced harsh immigration positions out of bad strategic judgment, and that this can be undone with more “outreach.” It’s that GOP candidates think they have to do this to appeal to the GOP’s base of support. The GOP’s Latino problem is the GOP base.
* Dems pressuring Supreme Court: I wrote yesterday that Obama is unlikely to wage a protracted, aggressive campaign against the Supreme Court as part of his reelection strategy if Obamacare is tossed out.
However, some legal experts are now concluding that a decision against Obamacare makes it more likely that the Court will be a political football this fall. We’ll see.
* Elizabeth Warren-Scott Brown spending pact in force: Scott Brown donates $35,000 to an autism charity, in response to oil industry ads running in Massachusetts — yet another sign that the agreement the candidates made to limit outside spending appears to be working, and could prove a model for other states and races.
* Budget cuts lead to deregulation: Nice Dana Milbank take on the direct impact that ongoing budget cuts have on government: They amount to a form of back door deregulation, and despite the complaints of business groups about supposedly being overwhelmed by regulation, the opposite is actually happening right now.
* And the never-ending hunt for “bipartisan” support for Ryan plan: It continues to come up empty.