In the wake of Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as
his running mate in the upcoming presidential election, I was browsing through
some newspapers and blogs, taking in the news and views on offer. Almost all of
it was exactly what you would expect: Everyone was spouting the cliches and
platitudes that went with their political positions, whether as professional
pols, pundits, consultants or whatever.
Suddenly, however, a blast of
fresh air: a blog called Right Condition had a different take. Its name tells
you its game, but this blog was not fulsomely pro-Ryan, spelling out why Ryan
was such an asset to the Romney ticket. On the contrary, it went for Ryan with
no holds barred: Paul Ryan, to be sure, is an impressive politician. He has a
perfect pedigree, is good looking and probably considered to be the premier
fiscal wonk of the Republican party. His budget is considered by many to be the
boldest and most courageous attempt at tackling America’s most pressing issues:
entitlements. Of course there is always more than the shiny facade pimped by
party loyalists, and for those that have bothered to investigate Ryan’s record
the picture becomes a bit murkier.
For starters there are the very
pressing and disturbing votes of the Bush legacy. Specifically Ryan’s support of
TARP, Medicare Part D and No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
All three are
wonderful examples of how the Republican party only fights for fiscal sanity
when it is a minority party, the second it becomes the majority it expands
government programs at an alarming rate.
Nuff said. For Mr. Right Condition, Ryan is not the rightwing bogeyman portrayed
by the Democrats and their supporters. He certainly isn’t the right-wing hero
portrayed by the Republicans, either. He is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing,
pretending to be a staunch, unbending adherent of conservative principles. But
in reality, when push comes to shove, he will bend and even snap. He is, it is
implied, of the George W. Bush ilk, and we all know what Dubya did when the time
came to stand firm on his right-wing, conservative principles.
Right Condition is not the mainstream.
Indeed, as its author notes about
himself, it is very far from that, declaring itself “fiscally conservative and
socially liberal.” But that’s not the point. What RC illustrates very clearly is
that in the immediate context of the election, Romney’s Ryan gambit will be a
flop because it will lose him many votes in the center and among senior
citizens, while failing to solidify the Republican party behind his
But far more important than that – or than Romney’s looming
defeat to an incumbent president who is highly unpopular, widely considered to
have failed and hence eminently beatable – it highlights the deep and
intensifying sickness in American politics. To an increasing degree, the agenda
and the tone are being set by the extremists on both sides, and any attempt by
moderates to pacify or appease extremists is doomed from the outset because
extremists are by definition un-appeasable and will always demand
Paul Ryan, therefore, is not good enough for the true believers
making the running on the Republican right.
For them, Ryan is a wimp or,
worse, a traitor to the cause. Salvation – defined as minimal spending on public
goods and (of course) social welfare, lower taxes and as little government as
possible – will not be achieved through co-opting him onto the ticket. On the
contrary, it just proves that Romney is untrustworthy, a closet liberal, a
promoter of spending on “socialized medicine,” etc.
If it were only the
Republican party that had gone mad and was determined to sacrifice electability
in the pursuit of ideological purity, then that would be its problem, not that
of America as a whole and hence not that of the wider world. However, the
Democrats are in just as bad shape, in the sense that they, too, are under the
influence of the extremist wing of their party, and it is the extremists whose
agenda, and particularly their vetoes, is shaping policy.
The net result
is that not only is the election campaign failing to push the candidates to
present realistic solutions to the country’s deepening socioeconomic crisis, it
is making it more likely that even after the election no solutions will be
developed, adopted and implemented – because the political system whose function
it is to do those things has been hijacked by extremists from both sides. The
only point of agreement between the opposing extremes is that the only way
forward is their way, thereby ensuring that paralysis