Romney introduces VP pick Paul Ryan as part of 'comeback team' GOP ticket
Decision to choose ultra-conservative Tea Party hero will offer voters a stark choice from Barack Obama's fiscal politics
Ewen MacAskill in Washington guardian.co.uk, Saturday 11 August 2012
Mitt Romney announced as his vice-presidential running mate Paul Ryan, the 42 year old Congressman who established his reputation with a Tea Party-infused plan for to massive debt cuts that the Wall Street Journal has said "would essentially end Medicare.".
The choice of Ryan ends months of speculation that he might choose a woman or a Latino as his running mate.
Instead, he has opted for a relatively young, ultra-conservative politician who will be popular with the Republican base.
Ryan's choice will help define the White House race, offering a stark choice between Barack Obama's push for spending to help speed America out of recession and a Romney-Ryan ticket committed to huge cuts in federal spending, especially welfare.
Romney, introducing Ryan at a campaign event in Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, had a minor gaffe, describing him as the "next president of the United States". He acknowledged his mistake and reintroduced him as the next vice-president.
Democrats welcomed the prospect of Ryan because his $5.3tn plan to reduce debt over a decade gives them scope to win over the targets of those cuts: the elderly on Medicare, the poor on welfare programmes, students and others.
The Obama campaign said Romney and Ryan also share a commitment to 'budget-busting tax cuts' for the wealthy.
Jim Messina, the Obama campaign manager, said the Republican ticket would return the nation to "reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy" and end Medicare.
The prospect of changes to Medicare could have a potent effect on the election. When Ryan first proposed it, there was backlash from its main beneficiaries, those aged 65 and over, worried over the prospect of losing their cover.
Bill Burton, a former White House staffer and founder of a leading Obama Super Pac, tweeted that "Romney picked one of the only people who could have had an impact in the race. But, not the way he wants."
Ryan's speech was dominated almost entirely by an attack on Obama's economic record. "We find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt and despair. This is the worst economic recovery in 70 years," he said.
"Unemployment has been above eight percent for more than three years, the longest run since the Great Depression."
The Romney campaign will come under pressure to explain how the Romney-Ryan team will implement a massive debt-cutting programme and cut taxes, as Romney has promised.
Obama and Romney have been running almost neck-and-neck in the polls for months, though Obama has opened up a small lead over the last week after a sustained attack on Romney's record as chairman of Bain Capital and a controversial ad linking Bain to a woman who died from cancer after her husband lost his job and health benefits.
Romney, in his speech Saturday, referred to the Obama campaign hitting "a new low".
The choice of running mate does not normally matter, apart from controversial choices such as Sarah Palin.
The vice-presidential candidate, after an initial flurry of interest, tends to retreat to the shadows, apart from his vice-presidential debate in the autumn. But Ryan looks as if he is going to have a bigger than usual impact.
Ryan's debt-reduction plan will be picked over in the coming weeks by the Obama campaign.
One of the most controversial parts of his package is to curb Medicare, the health insurance programme for Americans over 64, and that could play into Democratic hands.
He also proposes cutting Medicaid, the modest health safety-net for the poor, and other welfare programmes.
Back in 2005, Ryan credited the polemical novelist and libertarian Ayn Rand as a central inspiration for his entry into public life. Ryan toiled in those days in relative obscurity, a well-respected but low-profile member of the House of Representatives.
By the spring of 2012, the boyish congressman had become a Republican star, widely named as a possible vice presidential pick. He also had become considerably less comfortable being linked to the controversial Rand, an atheist with the world view of Social Darwinism.
As Ryan and the Republicans look to define the new vice presidential choice’s brand, part of the commentary will be about just how Randian (read: unsympathetic to the weak) the candidate really is.
Journalists who have recently written about Ryan suggested that his infatuation with the Russian émigré author, who died in 1982 at age 77, has hardly waned. The favorite son of Wisconsin has recently been insisting that his embrace of Rand amounted to a youthful infatuation. In an April interview with the National Review, Ryan said that the reports linking him to Rand were essentially “an urban legend.”
But Ryan made no bones about his philosophical influences just a few years ago. He told the Weekly Standard in 2003 that he gave his staffers copies of “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents. Speaking to a group of Rand acolytes in 2005, Ryan said, “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
Even three years ago, Tim Mak of Politico noted, Ryan channeled Rand. “What’s unique about what’s happening today in government, in the world, in America, is that it’s as if we’re living in an Ayn Rand novel right now,” Ryan said. “I think Ayn Rand did the best job of anybody to build a moral case of capitalism, and that morality of capitalism is under assault.”
By the time he introduced his austere budget plan this year — calling for an end to Medicare as a mandate and its replacement for many Americans with a system of vouchers — Ryan was being depicted as a harsh absolutist. He did not need to be tied too closely to Rand and her sink-or-swim imperatives.
Jonathan Chait, writing in New York magazine, suggested Ryan cannot slough off his connections to Rand’s thinking that easily. The journalist cited Ryan’s 2009 remarks about the immorality of government attacking productive members of society.
“It is not enough to say that President Obama’s taxes are too big or the healthcare plan doesn’t work for this or that policy reason,” the lawmaker said. “It is the morality of what is occurring right now, and how it offends the morality of individuals working toward their own free will to produce, to achieve, to succeed, that is under attack, and it is that what I think Ayn Rand would be commenting on.”
Chait said that Ryan has frequently invoked Rand’s idea of “makers” subsidizing society’s “takers.” In the New York story, he summed up the writer’s libertarian philosophy as “a defense of capitalism in general and, in particular, a conception of politics as a class war pitting virtuous producers against parasites who illegitimately use the power of the state to seize their wealth.”