Three Things About Paul Ryan as Romney’s VP Pick
I loathe Ryan, not least of all because I can now no longer sit in front of the telly (my Netflix queue has been full of British sitcoms) and let my frustration reservedly smolder as I watch the Sunday morning political shows while eating breakfast*, because doing so would inevitably entail putting up with the constant reprieve that, whatever you think about the government or the economy, you have to give the man credit: at least he wants to talk substance and is “bravely” proposing tough solutions!
There is, of course, nothing brave about proposing “bold” plans for dealing with the nation’s current deficit spending and ongoing debt obligations. Paul Ryan is, after all, Chairman of the House Budget Committee. He is, in fact, obligated to do exactly that.
At my job, when I construct cost summaries to help with developing new prices for company products, no one lauds me for doing so. They do not consider my spreadsheets “bold,” or myself courageous, simply because I do what’s listed in my job description. I do not get any bonuses for successfully completing a new quote; it is simply what’s expected of me. I get paid for the work I do, not the work I talk about doing. I have a job, this is how jobs work, this is how the real world works.
What would Paul Ryan know about the real world though? Or the private sector to which he long ago swore unconditional fealty? He has never worked outside of government. And yet the things he has accomplished while working in government are precisely those things he purports to crusade against. Others have thoroughly demonstrated this elsewhere, so I won’t waste time being redundant here, except to say that while Romney can claim a separation, at least in theory, from the economic policies of the previous administration, Ryan cannot. The Congressman likes to gesture boldly at where no man has gone before, the future, but his record of service is rooted firmly in the past. Whatever has happened in the government over the past 10 years, Ryan is as responsible as anyone else.
I find Paul Ryan’s connection to the cult of objectivism fascinating and welcome. How often are we blessed with candidates for high office that can be said to subscribe to an actual philosophy, even if it’s a pseudo one? It could spark a greater call for such candidates in the future even. People made fun of Newt Gingrich’s love of Asimov’s Foundation series, but I love that series, and love the fact that somewhere out there, there are still political candidates who are inspired by literature and the people who write it, good or bad. Because at the very least it feels sincere.
And what I do find repulsive about Ryan is his cynical marketing upon which his entire political image seems to be based. No matter what kinds of scumbag things Newt Gingrich says, you always know you’re getting New Gingrich. Even when he’s lying, or trying to deceive by other means, you’re still getting the genuine article because his ego is simply too big and bombastic to be concealed. The same could be said for Bill Clinton.
Ryan on the other hand has cultivated a personality which never breaks character, always appears calm and reasonable, and couldn’t be less authentic. He doesn’t disagree with his opponents, or their positions when presented in the form of a question from a journalist or talk show host, he simply furrows his brow and stares straight ahead with a look of forlorn but semi-wide-eyed consolation that indicates how confused and sad it is that these opponents are out of touch with reality or would seek so willfully to distort his proposals.
After all, he, Paul Ryan, has firm values and unshakable principles that shape his policy making. At least that’s the image he has promoted, and the one the media has been all too happy to accept. In fact, he represents the most contemptuous manipulation of Libertarian sentiment and Tea Party enthusiasm since the Republican party successfully co-opted Religion. Here I am not referring to the dependable support the party’s candidates receive from the religiously faithful in exchange for a few speeches in Congress and some token amendment proposals, but rather the ethos of religious humility which (See Conor P. Williams) Republicans have monopolized to great effect. How else do you gain street cred and appear grounded when you consistently demand policies which, whether by innocent coincidence or malevolent conspiring, always happen to favor the already wealthy and powerful**? The answer: you plunder and pillage every last religious symbol and tribal allegiance you can find in order that the rich traditions and intimate meanings associated with them can be draped like warm, comforting wool over these otherwise predatorial and discomforting objectives.
As a result, in light of much of what the Congressman has actually accomplished while in office, and despite his rhetorical lip service to small government conservatives and will to power anarchists, I pronounce him a Hipstertarian: someone who totes around dog-eared copies of the Fountain Head and Atlus Shrugged like counter-cultural flare, meant to signal the novelty of an unconventional politics and evoke an authenticity that his otherwise banal supply side policies thoroughly lack. Just as I would suspect many practicing Christians, who subscribe more holistically to the Bible, find the Republicans’ emphasis on gay marriage and abortion rights, to the exclusion of matters regarding employment, public health, and poverty, extremely opportunistic and exploitative, I wonder if many sincere libertarians find Paul Ryan’s penchant for basking in the intellectual heft associated with their principles somewhat manipulative given his poor record on actually following through when the rubber of those principles hit the road of political reality***.
Finally, what I find more disturbing than anything specifically related to Paul Ryan himself, is the fact that such a relatively young and handsome politician, who sits on a very important committee in the House, a Republican controlled House at that, and one which looks to stay that way for the foreseeable future, would rather try to fast-track his climb to the Presidency than continue accruing power in the country’s First Branch of government.
To me this is a good indication of just how petty and insignificant Congress is now perceived to be. If I were a young but experienced legislator, with strong principles and a severe desire to change not just the face, but supposedly the very structure of my national government, seeking to become President is probably the last thing I would think to do. Indeed, something about it feels of a piece with the media’s focus on personalities over issues, our fascination with celebrity, and the Internet’s peculiar way of centralizing our attention despite its decentralized architecture. I would like to return to a time when the Spearker of the House was a more central figure in public policy than the President, or perhaps reform our system in the direction of something more parlimentary. Eitherway, the fact that Republicans, a party of grass roots localism and states rights, small business lemonade stands and limited federal power, are as guilty as Big Government loving Democrats of putting so much faith in a single institution and person bewildering and dissappointing****.
Perhaps those better versed in the potential pay-offs of premier national politicking can explain the reasons behind such a move. Maybe running in the most important national election is actually the best way for Paul Ryan edge himself into the top tier of Congressional leadership. But even if that is the case, I still have my doubts. And the fact that Paul Ryan has chosen to run for Vice President, even if he and Romney win, has only, in my eyes, bolstered the case against him as a “serious” political thinker or doer.
*(I worry that the word “breakfast” by itself doesn’t do this weekly ritual justice. There is nothing I look forward to more than waking up early on Sunday morning and listening to Chris Hayes while preparing a spread of hashbrowns, eggs, and bacon, complimented with 2-3 different hot sauces, and complete with a toasted bagel as well as a large cup of French pressed premium coffee, before moving onto Fox News Sunday, This Week, and Meet The Press. I have been known to find even a slight deviation in this ceremony emotionally devastating).
**(I want to stress my use of “already” here, since supply side arguments are often couched in the morality of equal access to opportunity, but in practice often appear to protect and reinforce existing privilege rather than support those whose disciplined work ethic, virtuous character, and acquired abilities would enable them to acquire said privilege).
***(I wonder if some self-described libertarians could point to those people who they think are most authentically libertarian. That is, not those who you necessarily agree with, or even admire, but rather those people who seem to genuinely subscribe to their brand of libertarianism, and who came to it on their own. Ron Paul was a good example, but now it appears we must look elsewhere. With no irony intended, I would nominate Pen Jillette, but if it wasn’t already apparent, this is probably due in part to how few libertarians I know or am aware of.)
****(I updated this part after posting, and when, upon reading Tod’s comment, started to wonder if the post was actually any good, before than realizing that I hadn’t made the point with this section that I’d actually wanted to make, which was something along the lines of riffing on the “Cult of the Presidency.”)