With the selection of union-busting oenophile Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate, the mystery of which wealthy Caucasian ideologue will stand next to him clapping for the next four months is over, and we can relax and enjoy the two make fools of themselves until whatever ridiculous decision the voting public decides to make on Election Day.
Ryan’s selection is easily read as a sop to the extreme right ‘Tea Party’ elements of the Republican Party, and thus a likely nod by the ruling faction of bosses that their continued success in the elections lies not in demographics (they lost blacks a long time ago, and their attempts to connect with the growing Latino population have been comically inept) but in ideology. The two make a pretty entertaining pair, but those who find them uncomplementary — who were expecting, say, a Southern firebrand, or an East Coast tough-talker like New Jersey blob-thing Chris Christie to ‘balance the ticket’ — are missing the obvious. They are perfectly complementary: the entitled mega-millionaire who has paid his dues and has come to claim his just reward for a lifetime of servitude to his fellow bosses, and the upwardly striving mini-millionaire, the bootlicking true believer who is not to the manner born, but unquestioningly parrots every scrap of wisdom from his plutocratic superiors. The Toady and the Toadied: it’s a partnership for the ages.
The sincerity of Paul Ryan should not be called into question, though it will be severely tested over the next few months. He will find his ‘sensible’ benefit-annihilating budget trampled into unrecognition, because it will frustrate the easy passage of graft and payola, and he will take it. He will backtrack on his intemperate statements about public servants, because — thanks largely to his own party’s propaganda — they are still beloved by the public. He will find his mellow harshed when it comes to eliminating (sorry, vouchering) Medicaire, because old people vote in distressingly high percentages. All this he will swallow with a smile, because he wants to be Vice-President of the United States, but never doubt that if it were within his power, he would do all the awful things he promised to do before those promises collided with the selfishness of the voters and the greed of his colleagues. This sincerity is why the Tea Party likes him so much.
Much has been made — and will continue to be made — of Ryan’s adoration of Ayn Rand, the founder of the cod-philosophy of Objectivism and the author of several unreadably bad novels singing the praises of selfishness. Here, again, Ryan has already had to backpedal in the face of realpolitik; as recently as a few years ago, he praised Rand’s terrible books as “required reading” for his staff, but now, he’s already subjected himself to the humiliation of repudiating her altogether, having been told that her atheistic belligerence plays poorly with the God-botherers, who otherwise can be counted on to press “R” in the voting booth. But honestly, there is precious little hay to be made with the Ayn Rand connection, because the entire Republican Party, regardless of whether or not they have ever read or are even familiar with her writings, has been operating under the principles of Objectivism for at least 30 years.
This is what’s so ironic about the advertising and speechifying coming from the Romney campaign in recent weeks. To hear Paul Ryan talk about chronic unemployment, the income gap, the loss of real wages, and the death of the American Dream, you might think he was running on an unreconstructed progressive platform. Likewise, Mitt Romney’s attack ads could pass for union productions under Reagan: they bemoan a government that sits on its hands while the poor get poorer, the jobless give up hope, and the middle class fades into history. All of that is par for the course during tough economic times, but the irony lies in the notion — entirely false — that the Republicans plan to do anything whatsoever about it. “The Obama administration tried various solutions that didn’t work,” intones the serious-sounding voiceover. Unsaid: “Because we wouldn’t give them a chance”; merely implied: “So vote for us, and we won’t even try anything!”
To Obama’s credit, he has tried to make this clear in the context of his own attack ads. The Republicans do not offer an alternative to Democratic stimulus; their ideas consist solely of withdrawing all government aid, rerouting those funds into private hands through tax cuts, and deregulating businesses with the idea being that this time, they’ll use all that money to create jobs, despite never having done so before. Their alternative to unemployment insurance is nothing — worse than nothing: Ryan is a booster of the Georgia plan to force the jobless to work for free. Their alternative to food stamps is nothing. Their alternative to government-funded medical care is no medical care. Their alternative to federal job creation is private job creation, a fine idea if federal job creation had not been proposed due to the failure of the private sector to create jobs. Their alternative to minimum wage laws is nothing; their alternative to financial industry regulation is nothing; their alternative to wasteful public spending is no spending at all. The frustrated woman in their attack ads, at her wit’s end waiting for government aid to come, woud be equally deprived, but at least not operating under the illusion that anyone was trying to help her. Like Ned Flanders’ beatnik parents, the Republicans have tried nothing, and they’re all out of ideas.
I don’t wish to rehash how ahistorical it is to expect this hands-off approach to work; the record is there for everyone to see. I’ve also talked more than enough about how the Objectivist/libertarian ideal focuses exclusively on the problems of state control, while ignoring the far more serious and prevalent problems of private-sector control; one needs only to look at the economic difficulties of the last half-decade to see how profoundly dysfunctional a system in which the corporation is granted unquestionable authority can become. But to focus on Paul Ryan’s Randian credentials is to miss that he is merely an explicit advocate of what every Republican implicitly endorses. And to argue the sincerity of his so-called ‘pragmatic’ budgets is to pretend that he or his new source of brown nose-coat will do anything once in office other than lower taxes for the wealthy, free corporations from any pretense of having to operate within the law, and eliminate all social spending except as a facilitant to graft. Pragmatism is descriptive only of those who intend to solve problems; the Romney administration means to do no such thing. Ryan will be brought to heel and settle into his intended role as a defender of ‘fiscal responsibility’ as defined as ‘ritual reluctance to spend money on anything that might actually help people’. That is the purpose of an elected official as defined by the G.O.P.; everything else is comedy.
We have seen the battle between the only two permissible parties under American law shift from the struggle between two distinctly defined visions of society to a battle between doing little and doing nothing. When arguing for a second term for Ronald Reagan in 1984, but cautioning against his glib manipulation of the facts during his campaign, the Washington Post argued that while the Republican Party had not earned the right to lie about their accomplishments, they had at least earned the right to try to run the government, even if that meant they had also earned the right to fail. Now, though they will go to great lengths to avoid saying so, the Republic Party is arguing that it has earned the right to not try, the right to continue to fail, the right to answer an idea with no ideas and an action with no action. Having obstructed any action by the government while in opposition, Romney’s people intend to do nothing with the government if they control it; they are battling for the controls of an apparatus they intend to run into the ground.
One of Paul Ryan’s only jobs as a civilian was driving a Wienermobile (a fact that seems not to have provoked the exasperated wrath of John Boehner). Now, as the new golden boy of the Do-Nothing Party, he’s been handed the keys again, and this time he’s going to sell it for parts.