In selecting Paul Ryan as your running mate with his revolutionary ideas, a “Roadmap for America’s future,” you have set the board for a clarifying election that will define the route the country will take, possibly for decades.
It is an election we have needed to have for at least a decade as the country wobbled this way and that, getting nowhere and blaming each other for the poisonous partisanship that kept us virtually stalled.
Now the voters can decide what kind of nation we want to be: one that celebrates wealth and brands its own government the enemy or one that favors fairness and an open door to the middle class.
Whichever side wins, to get this nation off the deadly, going-nowhere center, the victory needs to be decisively big. The entry of the Ryan Factor means voters have a black-and-white choice.
There is a certain romantic charm to the Romney/Ryan vision of a drastically shrunken federal government that emphasizes state government and personal responsibility.
It is a vision from the early 1870s when America was essentially a nation of villages, where the local banker, leading merchant, even the local editor were persons of significance who looked after the town’s people and affairs.
There is even a compelling simplicity to Ryan’s two, and only two, tax rates, despite the fact that the very rich would get an average $250,000 tax cut and ordinary taxpayers would pay more, for instance, once tax breaks for mortgage interests were eliminated.
Further, there is honor in men with the courage to propose revolutionary ideas.
“Everybody knows this is politically risky territory. Republicans have their battle scars from entitlement reforms,” Ryan said in a recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “That’s why some argue that we should downplay bold agendas and simply wage a campaign focused solely on the president and his party. I firmly disagree. Boldness and clarity offer the greatest opportunity to create a winning coalition. We will not only win the next election — we have a unique opportunity to sweep and remake the political landscape.”
Ryan’s optimism is appealing, especially to Tea Party folk, for they, too, live in an early 19th-century dreamland.
But we are not a nation of villages anymore; the 1870s were the starting line for a vast urbanization, industrialization and corporatization of an economy that eventually became global.
The local banker, merchant and, in many cities, the local editor are not important figures but managers at the end of long, long corporate chains.
Great power today is vested in Wall Street and giant corporations. To contain that power with its possibility for abuse — as in the Great Bush Recession — regulations have been enacted. A graduated income-tax system was created to support general government as well as to provide for the elderly and needy, and give incentives for the striving poor.
The Ryan plan would take us back to times before the New Deal reforms.
“Washington has not been telling you the truth,” Ryan said in a video presenting his plan. “If we don’t reform spending on government health and retirement programs, we have zero hope of getting our spending — and as a result our debt crisis — under control.”
His reforms, which in the past would be considered extreme, would slash $6 trillion for agriculture, education, transportation, science and more as well as reducing income taxes by another $4 trillion, all of which would take 30 years to balance the budget.
No cuts in defense, so Washington would be a ghost town with an army.
If Romney accepts the whole Ryan plan as he said he would in the primary campaign — though he has already started backing away from it — he’d have 50 governors asking where in my state can I find $6 trillion to fund those programs?
Won’t America fund research anymore, must we wait 30 years to repair the nation’s infrastructure and start on a rapid-rail system as has already been done in Europe and Asia? Can the elderly afford to pay more for Medicare?
It looks as if unfortunate Romney will have to say about the Ryan plan, as he has about so many social and economic policies since his term as governor of Massachusetts, “I was for it before I was against it.”
By contrast, President Obama has a simple case to make: an opportunity society in which the disadvantaged have a shot at an education and a better life in a fairer world where rich and middle class pay their fair share.
Stripped down to the naked essentials, the choice between the two parties would seem to be between an oligarchy and a democracy: a stark choice but a clear one.
H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.