Across the political spectrum, even among many liberals who otherwise are rubbing their hands with glee over Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate, pundits and politicians are praising Romney’s move as a “courageous” and “bold” pick. And plenty of people (fewer on the liberal side, though still a great number of moderates) are lauding Ryan himself as ”courageous”. On the surface, such a take is understandable: Ryan’s claim to fame — his “Path to Prosperity” budget — was a political loser when introduced last spring. But a closer look reveals that these claims are bunk: Picking Ryan is essentially a safe sop to the conservative wing of the party, and Ryan himself is not so courageous.
First, Romney’s choice: The past few weeks have made clear that the race is slipping away from him, as President Obama’s lead has widened in state and national polls and the economic outlook has brightened slightly. The right has sensed this — see talk show host Laura Ingraham, among others — and conservatives are convinced that Romney is losing because he’s not assertive or conservative enough. So I agree with the New Republic’s Noam Scheiber when he writes this:
Ryan is the way Romney and his aides escape blame for their now-likely defeat — blame which would have vicious and unrelenting — and pin it in on conservatives instead. With only minor historical revisions, they will be able to tell a story about how Romney was keeping the race close through early August, at which point the party’s conservative darling joined the ticket and sent the poll numbers into steady decline.
If moderates such as Condoleezza Rice (pro-abortion rights) and Chris Christie (pro-gun control and moderate on immigration) were out of the question, Ryan was easy to choose ahead of the other possibilities: He has no Bush administration history, unlike Rob Portman, no raft of mini-scandals-in-waiting, like Marco Rubio, and some actual charisma, unlike Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty. Picking a reliable conservative was much safer for Romney than daring the right to abandon him and/or heap all the blame on him for losing in November. By process of elimination, Ryan was the best — and the safest — of the bunch.
As for Ryan himself, to begin with, what policies turned Clinton-era surpluses into Bush-era deficits? In large part, two tax cuts, two wars and a massive prescription drug benefit, and Ryan voted for all of them. (He also voted for TARP, by the way; his fiscal rectitude only included actually voting against massive expenditures once President Obama took office.) His “serious” debt-reduction plan doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. By contrast, the House Progressive Caucus budget, whatever else you think of it, balances the budget within a decade.(Note: In both cases, those are the budgets’ authors’ projections; your math may vary.) Furthermore, no doubt in fear of the senior vote, Ryan dropped the Social Security privatization aspect from his debt plan and now only guts Medicare for people 55 and younger. Finally, Ryan refuses to touch defense spending, retains tax breaks for oil companies that don’t need them, zeroes out the capital gains tax and finds his savings in programs by shredding the already hole-ridden safety net. For a Republican, this is smart politics. But how exactly is it “courageous” or “serious” to protect the interests to some of the most powerful (and wealthiest) lobbies in Washington — Wall Street, oil companies and the defense industry — while heaping painful cuts on the poor? No, the idea that Ryan or Romney’s nomination of him as his vice president is courageous is simply wrong.
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