Sunday, August 12, 2012

Veep Veep: A Syncopated Guide To Mitt's NBF

Veep Veep, A Syncopated Guide To Mitt’s NBF

Well, Mitt has done the “brave and bold” thing, and chosen Paul Ryan, the brave and bold, handsome, telegenic, intellectual, young, dynamic, dreamboat of the Right. 

Ryan is the complete package for those who dream of pre-1929 days.  Besides his good looks he’s the author of “The Ryan Plan” (cue celestial choir), which is a cornucopia of classic Republican nostrums: Tax cuts for “job creators” and less of everything for everyone else.  His new budget projects a balanced budget-by 2040 (wow!!)  Naturally,  it extends and makes permanent the Bush Tax cuts and reduces the tax rates for corporations. It also puts Medicare on the road to its inevitable extinction, and makes deep cuts in a wide swathe of domestic programs. When fully implemented, total spending will decline to 19% of GNP from its current 24% of GNP, with all the savings coming from the domestic side, especially from the entitlement programs. 

The chorus of Ryan love has been going on since early Spring; a coordinated push from conservative columnists, bloggers, news outlets, and, of course, the Wall Street Journal.  Romney, unsurprisingly, decided not to buck City Hall.

There are two things going on here, and both are worth examining. 

The first is that the Right doesn’t trust Romney.  He is the nominee, and they know he’s going to take care of his own (primarily, the old business elites) with lower taxes, less regulation, more goodies from the public till.  That will satisfy the big bucks contributors looking to monetize their support.  But they suspect (with good reason) that he has no passion beyond management and profit.  And they worry he’s is going to want to keep the job, and that probably means being a little less doctrinaire when he gets in office.  That doesn’t do it for them.  They want to clean the stables, make permanent their economic plans, and impose a sufficiently conservative social agenda to satisfy the religious right.  The GOP ideal is something akin to Franco’s Spain-a robust military, unbridled, unregulated and subsidized business, and tight ties with organized religion.  They can then lock up their electoral advantage with a continuation of the K Street initiative (punishing businesses that contribute or support Democrats) more attacks on labor, and voter suppression techniques. Nothing new here.  For every politician and political operative who talks about ideas and principles, there are ten more who just want to be in charge.  “Big government” and “Statism” is only bad when you don’t have the keys to the car.

The second is a little more complicated, and has a lot to do with electoral politics.  Romney and his advisors have long held to the idea that this election is a repeat of 1980: that the weakness in the economy and Obama’s own general unpopularity will lead to a Reaganesque late surge and a Romney landslide.   There are a lot of reasons to buy into that analysis;  Obama hasn’t been able to get beyond his own base, Obamacare remains unpopular, unemployment is high, people are fearful, and the GOP in Congress have perfected all the tools of obstruction.

But, all those things have been true through the entire Republican primary season, and Obama stubbornly stays close or ahead.  Perhaps that’s because Obama is not Carter-he’s smarter and tougher.  Perhaps it’s because there’s no traumatic event like the Iranian Hostage crisis.  And, perhaps it’s because Romney is no Reagan. 

Romney is no Reagan.  He’s Romney, a coldblooded and calculating businessman who knows what he wants.  This is no different than a corporate takeover-you size up your opponent, find a weak spot, push the knife in, take the prize, and drain it.  Sometimes your early approaches are rebuffed by a surprisingly adroit opposing management.  So, you take a breath, re-evaluate, and bring in additional equity.

That’s what Ryan is.  Romney has been pledging undying fealty to the Right, but with words only.  Now he’s taken some of their money.  He’s counting on them being minority partners, and not loan sharks, but my guess is that they expect a high-leverage return.

Will it work?  It’s too soon to tell.  The ecstatic reaction of the Right is to be expected, but the truth of the matter is that, while Veep picks (Palin) can draw a tremendous amount of heat, they rarely count for much.  Romney thinks that Ryan will help him in the Midwest, starting with Wisconsin.  He knows it could cost him among the elderly who may be concerned about Medicare.  He’s obviously done the math and decided to roll the dice. 

What he doesn’t know is when the interest will be due to his “investors” but it’s logical to assume the GOP Platform, with “The Ryan Plan”  front and center, will be the first payment.

Can Romney and Ryan campaign on Ryan’s ideas? Crudely, it depends on whether they can continue to avoid getting into great detail, and whether Romney can keep his tax returns private.  Because “The Ryan Plan” is a big wet kiss on the mouth to Mitt and others like him. 

But, here’s the dirty little secret about “The Ryan Plan.”  Ryan is half right-the entitlement reform side, which we need to do.  His problem is that he can’t control his partisan political impulses-he so badly wants to take the savings and hand it to the affluent, so badly wants to “starve the beast,” that’s he’s missing an opportunity. Actually, we are all missing an opportunity.

Here’s a Moderate Moderator’s prediction: The first candidate who speaks plainly about a grand bargain; entitlement reform, real tax reform, tax fairness, real deficit reduction, and fully shared sacrifice will win-and deserve to win. 

Here’s a second prediction:  Neither side will do it, because either they can’t stomach shared sacrifice when they could take it all (that would be the GOP) or risk giving up a political prize such as the gutting of Medicare (that would be Mr. Obama).

They are both wrong.