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promisingly callous ideologue

Jonathan P Hicks | 8/17/2012, 10:38 a.m.
At first, the assessment heard most often by political pundits and Republican officials was that...
It's time to make youth unemployment the focus of our national attention

At first, the assessment heard most often by political pundits and Republican officials was that Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as a vice presidential candidate was a bold move. But in the days since, Romney's decision to select the congressman from Wisconsin has met with no shortage of skepticism from Republicans and sheer glee from Democrats.

All of which is appropriate. For one thing, Ryan, the darling of the tea party, is an extreme right-wing conservative whose policies are hostile to women, the elderly as well as Black and Latino Americans. He is becoming even better known as the man who would dismantle and retrofit Medicare, contorting it into a voucher program under which senior citizens would see crippling increases to their medical expenses.

For Republicans, the selection of Ryan might at second glance seem more than a little bit risky. It is risky because it requires Romney to do something he has studiously avoided throughout the campaign: being saddled with unmistakably clear ideology on public policy issues. The GOP presidential candidate, who is best known for changing his views as frequently as the "Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" change shoes, is now linked to Ryan's vision for the economy.

It is furthermore risky because it exposes Ryan as deeply out of step with most Americans on a host of issues. In short, as Republicans go, Ryan is particularly dangerous.

A significant aspect of the Ryan political philosophy is how it showcases such strong hostility toward women and the restrictions he feels comfortable issuing. He has no reservations about eliminating a woman's ability to make decisions on her health. Ryan is resolute--uncompromisingly so--in his view that no woman should be allowed to have an abortion. Under his belief system, a woman should be legally compelled to carry to term the child of her rapist or the family member who has molested her.

So fanatically is Ryan fixated on this issue that he co-sponsored a bill that would grant "personhood" to a fertilized egg, making abortion and some forms of birth control the statutory equivalent of murder. Alas, that bill got no further in Congress than it did in the reactionary state of Mississippi, whose voters recently defeated a similar law.

However, the doozy in the Ryan political worldview is found in his budget priorities, now widely known as the "Ryan Plan." He would convert Medicare into a voucher system under which beneficiaries would be paid a fixed amount for their medical care, while completely leaving them to fend for themselves should the vouchers not cover all those expenses.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Ryan Plan would leave older Americans--a good portion of them Black and Latino--with additional out-of-pocket expenses averaging around $6,400 a year. Under the Ryan Plan, more than 60 percent of the proposed budget reduction would come from cuts in programs that benefit low-income Americans. Even the nation's Roman Catholic bishops have offered stinging criticism, saying the plan "will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors."

There is little wonder that Romney has sought to distance himself from the Ryan Plan in the days since announcing his vice presidential selection. And there should be little wonder that President Obama and his campaign staff are giddy at the prospect of running against a ticket that includes such a callous ideologue.

Nor should there be any wonder that most Americans might well find themselves deeply troubled by the prospect of a vice presidential candidate with positions not just shockingly extreme but also dreadfully toxic.