Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Oo, Ahh, Skeery Mr Ryan

We now have a presidential ticket openly advocating the end of the social contract that has held the country together for 80 years. Is it condemned to death no matter who wins?

Mr. Ryan has cooked up a bunch of ideas so inane and internally contradictory that his ascension to the vice presidential nomination could only be possible with the assistance of a willfully blind, i.e. deeply complicit, media echo chamber. As Dean Baker has pointed out for years, the Washington Post, once a reliably liberalish establishment newspaper, regularly pours the Ryan Kool-Aid on budgetary matters and the supposed ‘crisis of entitlements’. He patiently corrects the falsehoods by noting, first, that Social Security, an insurance pool, is comfortably solvent and could easily be strengthened to handle retiring boomers with a modest tax increase on higher earners.

He also repeats almost daily—although few listen—that the crushing increase of Medicare/Medicaid spending requires major surgery on health costs that no one in government is even suggesting as it would entail a challenge to powerful pharmaceutical interests and the earnings of medical professionals. None of our current ‘leaders’ would whisper such things even in private. So the Beltway consensus that ‘something must be done’ is nearly unanimous, and Paul Ryan is merely the extreme and openly heartless version of it.

There are signs that the wagons are circling to bring Obama and his team back for another cycle, and one can take brief comfort in the idea that the country is not yet ready to stand before the cameras and to throw Grandma down the stairs in her wheelchair. But just because despicable acts cannot be performed in public does not mean that they cannot be performed. The Romney-Ryan train may indeed crash—‘Enjoy Tasty Catfood & Make Me Rich!’ is not really a great advertising slogan—but then what?

If past behavior is a good predictor of future action, a second Obama term should give us pause. Is there a single piece of evidence, not counting frothy campaign promises, that he will dig in the presidential heels and defend the social programs that Ryan wants on the chopping block? I see none. We will hear a lot in the next three months about the hallowed commitments to our aged and infirm, dating from Franklin & Eleanor, just as we heard four years ago about torture, indefinite detention and illegal warmaking.

How did all that work out? Obama has neutralized Republican attacks on his foreign policy by largely adopting theirs. No one calls it a ‘Grand Bargain’, the term Beltway hacks like to use when contemplating how to dismantle guaranteed state pensions and free health care for the elderly. But that’s what it is, a slightly toned-down version of the Bush-era war-on-terror strategies, including drone missile attacks and authorized assassination lists. As a chilling article by Tom Junod in the latest Esquire points out, Obama gets plenty more elbow room to carry out these policies because he’s successfully painted himself as a decent, even agonized, guy doing his best. And since he’s black, he’s on the side of the underdog, right?

Who’s to say that a similar dynamic will not emerge post-November when the howling wolves, despite photo-shopping bones through the president’s nose, will retreat to their forest lairs licking their self-inflicted wounds? Obama, if history is a reliable precedent, will then extend the olive branch and ask them to come play nice so that they can carve up our future together hand in hand. And after the relief many will feel that two disgustingly rich and selfish creeps are not in the White House, Mr O will have plenty of room in which to do it.

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