Mitt Romney’s choice of the swashbuckling, budget-cutting ideologue, Paul Ryan, as his vice presidential nominee shows that when it comes to the GOP’s economic policy, it’s same script, different cast. Together, Romney and Ryan represent a retread of 40 years worth of Republican ideas on economics, race and the role of government. Not content to let failure remain dormant, they want to reanimate bankrupt concepts and take them to a whole, new level.
Ryan is the chair of the House Budget Committee, author of the jobs and social safety-net destroying "Ryan Budget," and a self-described "Young Gun." Romney announced his selection aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin. The seven-term congressmember hails from Janesville, Wisc.; population 63,000. He is a darling of the Tea Party and an adherent to its cause.
For progressives and people of color, it’s hard to imagine a worse choice. Romney and Ryan may make a telegenic pair, but the reality of their policies and philosophies is downright ugly.
The focus of their campaign will be to reignite last summer’s disastrous debate on the deficit and debt. But the problem isn’t America’s debt, it’s America’s values. Ryan and Romney’s idea of a country where the rich matter more than the rest, fueled by tax cuts which make millionaires even more powerful, is exactly what caused the current crisis.
Under Romney and Ryan, the tremendous gains of the rich–which are subsidized by average Americans through the very deficits that they decry–will continue.
More disturbingly, Romney’s and Ryan’s discredited proposals would take America back to a less-just, less equitable place. To them, that era of racial and economic injustice was America at its best–and the effort to end it created the current economic mess.
Nothing illustrates this perverse understanding of economic history more dramatically than the very reason why Ryan was chosen: the popularity amongst conservatives of his infamous "Ryan budget."
Ryan’s budget–or "A Roadmap for America’s Future," as its formally known–would effectively end Social Security for those under 55; do the same for Medicare and Medicaid; strike the last bit of fairness in our tax code, by eradicating the principle that if you earn more you pay more; drastically reduce food stamps, and slash government education assistance, scientific research, and infrastructure spending.
As a result, America would be without a retirement plan for seniors; 47 million Americans would lose health insurance. The rich would receive a massive tax break. Fifty million Americans would be deprived of reliable food sources, and the investments we need to grow fairly and sustainably would be undermined.
The most radical and reckless idea embedded in the Ryan cuts is that America is at its best only when millionaires prosper.
It’s disguised as fiscal responsibility, but according to The New York Times, almost 70 percent of the savings from Ryan’s spending cuts go to fund tax cuts for the rich. The Ryan budget is a giveaway to millionaires made in the name of getting the nation’s budgetary house in order.
Analysis of the Ryan plan by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center concludes, "those making $1 million or more would enjoy an average tax cut of $265,000 and see their after-tax income increase by 12.5 percent. By contrast, half of those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would get no tax cut at all."
Because of these tax cuts, Ryan’s plan can’t achieve its stated goal of deficit reduction. Ryan reduces spending by huge amounts, but his millionaire giveaways reduce revenue dramatically. Under his proposal, the U.S. would still have deficits for as far as the eye can see.
Though abhorrent, Ryan’s ideas are not new. Touted as an attempt to rescue America’s future, they’re ripped right out of America’s past.
We’ve Already Tried it Ryan’s Way
In the late 1970s as a candidate, and then in the 1980s as president, Ronald Reagan was the first mainstream politician to demonize the less well off, cut the programs that help them, and then transfer the "saved" resources to fund tax cuts for the rich.
Newt Gingrich shut down the government twice in the 1990s to advance Reagan’s goals further. In the 2000s, George W. Bush gave away huge, budget-busting tax cuts, while trying to destroy Social Security and Medicaid.
Last year, Speaker John Boehener pushed the country to the brink of default solely to protect the strategy of lowering taxes on the rich and targeting the poor.
This economic ideology might be acceptable if it worked. But it actually broke the world.
Since the Republicans began to have their way with the economy, the top 5 percent have accumulated a greater share of national wealth than at almost any point in history. All the while, the net worth of the poor and middle class has plummeted. Disturbingly, net worth amongst blacks and Latinos is at the lowest level on record.
The tremendous gains of the rich, underwritten by enormous tax cuts, have been subsidized through federal government deficits. Now the rich are dramatically richer and the national debt is sky high. When Reagan came into office the debt was $ 1 trillion. It now stands at $15 trillion, and the majority of that was tacked on during the presidencies of Reagan and George W. Bush. Their commitment to tax cuts sent America’s debt burden through the roof.
Instead of serving as a "A Roadmap for the Future," Ryan’s plan wants to take us back to the future of more tax cuts and more debt. And that retro-future has been one of the most difficult periods in American history for people of color and those that work for a living.
The Black and Brown Blame Game
The question is not whether the economic policies Ryan represents are effective. They clearly are not. The question is, "Why do they keep coming up?"
Here again, Ryan’s plan clues us in. In it, he argues that a "culture of dependency" fueled by "progressivism" and "The Great Society" is the cause for America’s economic crisis. To his mind, policies which promote fairness are the problem. Black and brown America are to blame.
Romney takes Ryan’s black and brown blame game a step further.
Earlier this year he said that Democrats "(don’t) have the same feelings about American exceptionalism that we do," and that we need "to restore to this country the principles that made this nation the greatest nation in the history of the Earth." New York magazine reports his book "No Apology" echoes the theme. Romney declares that the current economic crisis was caused by a "reorientation away from American exceptionalism."
Brought back into the public mind by Sarah Palin, exceptionalists believe that the policies promoted by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, centered on economic and race fairness, weakened rather than strengthened the country.
They are devotees instead of the off-the-chain individualist philsopher Ayn Rand. Ryan told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that, "What I liked about her novels was their devastating indictment of … too much government."
Like Karl Marx, Rand may have been accurate in the details of her analysis, but she was a wrong-headed radical whose conclusions are off the mark. Rand’s book "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" asserts that "government is the most dangerous threat to man’s rights." She had controversial views on race which, like many modern conservatives, worked in tandem with her hate of government. "Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe," she declared.
An article on Rand by Sam Anderson in New York Magazine highlights her belief that "Native Americans, having failed for a millennia to create a heroically productive capitalist society, deserved to be stripped of their land." He concludes that she "suffered from some kind of undiagnosed personality disorder."
Rand’s firebrand anti-government rhetoric and attack on the tribe-based "savage" are rallying points for many conservatives.
The problem with Rand, Romney, and Ryan is that in a democracy the people are sovereign. When everything works as it should, the government actually reflects the expressed will of the people; it’s not apart from us.
Mid-century America unleashed a wave of changes which made it a fairer place. Black and brown Americans were able to participate fully in public life like never before. A person of African descent is now president. The country recently passed a demographic threshold: births amongst people of color now outnumber those of whites.
In the wake of these changes, conservatives have unleashed a wave of policies from immigration to health care to taxes to undermine the promise of this new reality.
Ryan’s presumptive nomination to be vice president is only the latest effort to erase hard fought and necessary modifications to the United States. Romney wants him to be "one heart beat from the presidency."
The irony of course is that after the doors of opportunity were thrown open for millions of women and people of color–during the 1960s and 1970s–America had the strongest years of broad-based, equitable economic growth and lower debt levels. This era was when the modern American middle class solidified, especially for people of color.
Romney’s and Ryan’s financial plans for America have little to do with the economy but are an attempt to the turn clock back legally, socially and culturally. But instead of calling them out on the wrongness of their proposals, President Obama has taken the bait and decided to argue the point on their terms.
The president could more forcefully and tenaciously prompt a debate about jobs. He has real proposals that if enacted would turn the economic crisis around. Romney and Ryan don’t have a credible jobs plan. Economic growth would go a long way towards eliminating deficits. With the economic growth of the 1990s, for instance, we actually began to pay down debt. A successful economy solves a lot of problems.
Obama could also tell an inconvenient truth: Debts don’t matter. What matters is the ability to pay for them. As the world’s largest economy and with a currency that serves as the only true international means of exchange, the U.S. is not Greece or Spain.
We can print our own money and anyone will except it. In recent years, demand for U.S. government debt in the form of bonds has exceeded supply. It’s almost impossible for the U.S. to go broke. For America, growth is more important than debt.
But unfortunately, Obama has embraced a deficit reduction plan of his own. Under it, cuts (cost reductions) outnumber tax increases (revenue enhancements) by 2-to-1. It could be argued that Obama is merely pushing a kindler, gentler version of Republican ideas. Last month he emphasized that he wants to keep the Bush tax cuts, too, for those making under $250,000 instead of millionaires.
The president could be on offense, but instead he is content with defense.
With his choice of Ryan, Romney has seized the reins of the race. The real consequence of Romney’s choice is that at exactly the time our country needs a serious debate about the best way to grow the economy, and end the jobs crisis, we’re going to get the opposite.
What will ensue is yet another argument over whether people of color and the working poor are to blame for the current economic catastrophe.
At the heart of the discussion, will be a drive to reduce government spending. Yet these very cuts in government spending are a leading reason why we remain mired in the worst recession in almost 100 years, and is why black unemployment is off the charts.
Romney and Ryan’s proposals will almost certainly fail to turn the economy around. In fact, their policies will only exacerbate the crisis and inflame it.
Imara Jones writes about economic justice for Colorlines.com