Saturday, 11 August 2012

Who is Paul Ryan?


Former Massachusets Governor Mitt Romney and House Budget Committee Chairmen Representative Paul Ryan in Milwaukee April 3, 2012. AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

So the waitings over, the app turned out to be a spammy waste of time and we're now all basking in the knowledge of Romney's running mate pick. Slightly unexpected, I guess, since everyone thought Tim Pawlenty was a dead cert but it makes sense in hindsight – the criticism of Romney has been that his entire political career demonstrates a lack of willingness to do two things; a) take a gamble and b) show a meaningful ideological commitment. Of course, with the pick of Congressman Ryan, Romney has done neither of those things since he's a) trying to avoid the risk that he's portrayed as risk-averse, which him and his advisers have judged fatal to his campaign and on point b) he's merely shifting position rightward for expediency. If he'd judged the situation to warrant a more centrist VP like Pawlenty, he'd have picked that in a heartbeat and everyone knows it. You don't get to rewrite your ideologically dubious political history through a single political decision, but the way some of the coverage is talking about this you'd think Romney had undergone a metamorphosis into Barry Goldwater.

The Ryan pick is sure to drum up conservative enthusiasm, which from my vantage point seems a curious ambition since conservatives were always going to vote against Obama anyway. The Ryan pick is unlikely to win Romney Hispanic voters, which he needs and is likely to alienate senior citizens, since Ryan wants to essentially dismantle the Medicare system as it currently stands. Plus, he's far too ideological to win over a significant amount of independents and undecided voters as he's basically the intellectual granddaddy of the widely disliked Tea Party movement. The current golf-clapping coming from the political punditry is that Ryan is an ideas guy who talks seriously about policy, but he's really just the best of a bad bunch - he's only seen as intellectually complex by comparison to the other GOP Congressmen, who spend their whole time harping on about religious nonsense like creationism and denying global warming. Let's be clear for a second - Paul Ryan is, by any normal standards, an extremist ideological zealot, but is seen as reasonable because he has a grasp of statistics and talks rather than shouts. Paul Ryan further takes his intellectual inspiration from Ayn Rand. I went through a (very) brief phase when I was about 19 of finding Ayn Rand's writing interesting, but soon snapped out of it when I saw it for what it was - an intellectually inconsistent, morally vacuous diatribe which only appeals to bitter, selfish people who want a justification for their social awkwardness and desire to kick other people when they're down. There are plenty of philosophers who advocate individualism, free-marketism, limited government who are not ridiculous - Robert Nozick and Freidrich Hayek come to mind - but Ayn Rand's terrible novels are for the intellectually uncurious and unserious - she tells you that you don't need to bother with other philosophers because they're all evil morons and then tells you that it's not just okay but morally right to be a selfish dick. As a philosopher, she's extremely uninteresting and logically incoherent but has great appeal to people who find that whole altruism thing to be a bit bothersome.

Ryan is a right-wing extremist who basically wants to dismantle the state for his own kooky ideological reasons and whilst the VP is, historically, a fairly inconsequential role, guys like Dick Cheney have demonstrated the awesome power the office can hold when it's occupied by a crusader. Paul Ryan is nothing if not a crusader and whilst this isn't as wildly dangerous a selection as putting a future reality-show star and pathological liar like Sarah Palin on the ticket, it confirms that Romney is firmly OK with the Tea Party telling him what to do, as long as he gets to be President. Liberals were holding out that a President Romney wouldn't actually be as bad as Dubya because, hey, he's really a closet liberal - look at his Massachusets healthcare bill! With the Ryan pick, he's let his colours be known. Maybe not his true colours, since nobody knows what colour Romney actually is, but at least his colours for the next four years. A few months ago, Romney described himself as 'severely' conservative. At the time this was widely interpreted as a gaffe, since severe normally carries negative, destructive connotations. With the Ryan pick, it's become clear that a Romney presidency would be definitely severe, though perhaps more destructively anti-state radical than traditionally conservative. 


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