Monday, August 20, 2012

Dowd: Beware a Beautiful Calm, Nader: Ryan's Vicious Budget

Maureen and Ralph; together at last. 
Beware a Beautiful Calm
Maureen Dowd
NY Times Op-Ed: August 19, 2012
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
WHAT happens when you realize you are the machine you're raging against?

Tom Morello, the Grammy-winning, Harvard-educated guitarist for the metal rap band Rage Against the Machine, punctured Paul Ryan's pretensions to cool in a Rolling Stone essay rejecting R&R (Romney 'n' Ryan) as R&R (rock 'n' roll).

"He is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades," Morello writes, adding: "I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta 'rage' in him: A rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically, the only thing he's not raging against is the privileged elite he's groveling in front of for campaign contributions."

In my experience, when a presidential candidate needs some outside force to animate him — Michael Dukakis needed Kitty, Bob Dole needed C-Span, Willard needs Paul — it spells doom.

The fresh Gen X vice-presidential contender — like Sarah Palin, he favors the exclamation "awesome" — has had mixed reviews in his debutante cotillion.

Howard Fineman wrote in The Huffington Post that "Ryan turns out, upon closer inspection, not to be a purifying ideologue, but rather a young, power-hungry, ladder-climbing trimmer." The self-styled deficit cutter backed W.'s deficit-exploding agenda, and the tut-tutting critic of the Obama stimulus grabbed for the president's stimulus money.

Neocons and Tea Partyers, however, continued to rhapsodize. Grover Norquist told Bloomberg's Al Hunt that Ryan would be the Dick Cheney of economic and tax policy. And that's a compliment.

The comparison is apt. Ryan looks like a bonus Romney son, as Dan Quayle did with Bush senior. Republicans find the tableau of two rich white guys — same shirts, different generations — comforting. With W. and Cheney, the usual order switched and the vice-presidential candidate played the role of surrogate dad.

Where Ryan is like Cheney is in tone: at first blush, the Wisconsin congressman emanates a thoughtful, reassuring reasonableness, talking to reporters and sometimes Democratic lawmakers. Cheney's deep voice, like the headmaster of a boys' prep school, seemed moderate and measured, too, at first. But it is deceptive. Both men are way, way out there.

It is, to use a phrase coined by French doctors, la belle indifférence, or "the beautiful calm" of hysterical people. But the closer you look, the uglier it gets.

Just as Cheney, hunter of small birds and old friends, once defended cop-killer bullets and plastic guns that could slip through airport metal detectors, so Ryan, deer hunter, championed concealed guns and curtailing the background check waiting period from three days to one.

Just as Cheney was always willing to cough up money to guerrillas in Nicaragua and Angola but not to poor women whose lives were endangered by their pregnancies, so Ryan helped pay for W.'s endless wars while pushing endless anti-abortion bills, like one undercutting an exemption from the ban on using federal money for abortions in cases of rape or incest, and narrowing the definition of rape to "forcible rape."

What on earth is nonforcible rape? It's like saying nonlethal murder. Why redefine acts of aggression against women as non-acts of aggression?

Even Catholic bishops, who had to be dragged toward compassion in the pedophilia scandal, were dismayed at how uncompassionate Ryan's budget was.

Mitt Romney expects his running mate to help deliver the Catholic vote and smooth over any discomfort among Catholics about Mormonism. (This is the first major-party ticket to go Protestant-less.) Yet after Ryan claimed his budget was shaped by his faith, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops deemed it immoral.

"A just spending bill cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor and vulnerable persons," the bishops wrote in a letter to Congress.

The Jesuits were even more tart, with one group writing to Ryan that "Your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

The nuns-on-the-bus also rapped the knuckles of the former altar boy who now takes his three kids to Mass. As Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice group Network, told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, it's sad that a Catholic doesn't understand that "we need to have each other's backs. Only wealthy people can ever begin to pretend that they can live in a gated community all by themselves."

Even Ryan's former parish priest in Janesville weighed in. Father Stephen Umhoefer told the Center for Media and Democracy, "You can't tell somebody that in 10 years your economic situation is going to be just wonderful because meanwhile your kids may starve to death."

Beyond the even-keeled Ryan mien lurks full-tilt virulence. A moderate demeanor is not a sign of a moderate view of the world.  

* * *

Weekend Edition August 17-19, 2012

Paul Ryan's Vicious Budget

by Ralph Nader

The cruel impoverishment of the debate among the presidential and congressional candidates took a gigantic leap into the pits with Mitt Romney's selection of 42-year-old Rep. Paul Ryan from the deindustrialized town of Janesville, Wisconsin. Ryan is invariably described by reporters as "an intellectual leader of the conservative movement" and by fellow Republicans as a person "who tells the hard truths" to the American people.

The truth is that what has distinguished this fast-talking, glib, Ayn Rand-smitten, congenial young man is that he has a plan for the federal budget. On Capitol Hill that fact alone makes one a "stand-out" in the field of political narcissists whose mental tank harbors gaseous one-liners and kneejerk slogans.

The Ryan budget plan is a Koch brothers' dream and the American peoples' nightmare. It leads with a lie – namely to control deficit spending by continuing it for at least 30 more years before his concoction of big tax cuts for the rich, further increases in the already bloated defense budget, and savage cuts in public services for the people, somehow balance the budget around mid-century.

Ryan's brain is chock-full of such cognitive dissonance that it would blow a normal person's mind. He is a practicing Catholic, but since his youth has been a disciple of the militant atheist Ayn Rand who despised altruism and "love thy neighbor" values while edifying extreme selfishness and greed.

His plan for social security is social insecurity. Make people work longer before receiving curtailed benefits, invest trillions of dollars of these funds in the volatile stock market and make sure that rich people only have to pay social security taxes on a fraction of their earned income.

He would open the floodgates on future Medicare to the rapacious health insurance companies through a voucher system whereby the elderly are fed to these sharks with ever-higher co-pays. His "block grant plan alone would lead states to drop between 14 and 27 million people (the poor and those with disabilities) from Medicaid by 2021," according to the Urban Institute.

As a 16-year-old youngster, Ryan and his family were helped by social security when his father passed away. So why now impose this draconian crunch on these three major programs? Ryan says that this is the only way to preserve social security, Medicare and Medicaid for future generations. Very well, Mr. Ryan, then why have you refused to civilly debate your proposals and their consequences with any of your critics inside and outside the Congress before a national television audience?

I requested that you have this important exchange in three letters (see Finally, your office demurred on the grounds that you were too busy. Are you really too busy to debate your plan which has passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and has been generally endorsed by Mitt Romney? Or are you too fearful of trying to defend your numbers and their plutocratic values to the likes of Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, who has called the Ryan budget "the most fraudulent in American history"?

Cognitive dissonance proliferates. His hometown has been devastated by pull-down trade agreements yet he supports NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. He sees himself as a fiscal hawk while being an armchair warrior and military hawk (he wants to stay and win in Afghanistan). He offers "to restore the dreams and greatness of America" but opposes both public works projects to repair America and environmental health standards so Americans can breathe, drink, eat and work more safely.

He proposes deep cuts in widespread hunger alleviating food stamps. He opposes the minimum wage while he fights to eliminate or reduce taxes on capital gains and other taxes on the already undertaxed very-wealthy who have poured money into his and other Republicans' campaign kitties.

He professes to be against crony capitalism, but he voted for the giant Wall Street bailouts and other bailouts and giveaways that define what real conservatives find so offensive.

An outraged David A. Stockman, President Reagan's first director of the Office of Management and Budget, dismisses Ryan's conservative credentials. He said that Calvin Coolidge, Herbert C. Hoover, Senator Robert A. Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and even Gerald A. Ford "would have had no use for the neoconservative imperialism…"

"In short," wrote Stockman in The New York Times, "Mr. Ryan's plan is devoid of credible math or hard policy choices…. Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have no plan to take on Wall Street, the Fed, the military-industrial complex, social insurance or the nation's fiscal calamity and no plan to revive capitalist prosperity – just empty sermons."

So Mr. Ryan is a closet corporatist who won't even urge cracking down on the hundreds of billions of dollars that companies defraud the federal government every year, including documented fraud on Medicare, Medicaid and the Defense Department.

If the Democrats can't use the Ryan budget as their ticket to victory this November in Congress and the White House, then they are truly the terminally decaying party of caution, cash and cowardliness.

In reality, the Ryan budget, thrown right in the face of the American people, is the ultimate test of what's left of the Democrats besides their donkey.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition.

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