It has been a few days since former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney selected Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. The dust has settled a bit, and the left and the right have predictably, and incorrectly, caricatured Ryan as a villain and a hero. Liberals see him as a radical right-wing extremist who wants to gut Medicare and the social welfare state, while conservatives have hailed him as a fiscally responsible, Ayn Rand-influenced champion of limited government.
A closer look at Ryan, however, proves that that he is little more than a political opportunist, a sheep in wolf's clothing eager to wrest power and control away from the Democrats. He may, like any good politician, give a good speech and flatter his audience with talking points; his voting record and actions only enhance Romney's ticket as a carbon-copy of President Obama.
When it comes to the issue that a president has the most power over - foreign policy - Ryan believes in a virtually unlimited government. While somehow earning his reputation as some type of "deficit hawk," Ryan firmly supports the Pentagon's welfare programs. In his "Path to Prosperity" plan, Ryan calls for massive increases in the Pentagon's budget. According to the Daily Beast, Ryan has received briefings and immense praise from Elliot Abrams and Fred Kagan, two of the most infamous neocon holdovers of the Reagan and Bush Administrations. And in a June 2011 foreign policy speech, Ryan criticized "isolationism" and argued that America - while propping up dictators and enforcing police states throughout the globe - is "the greatest force for human freedom in the world."
In other words, Ryan fits right in with the bipartisan foreign policy that has dominated Washington for decades and sees no problem with borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars a year in order to maintain, and even expand the empire. Ryan is no "deficit hawk," just a hawk, screeching for more war, debt, and government growth.
Like Ryan, President Obama is a favorite of the neocon/interventionist cabal inside the Beltway. Obama has admitted that he was "enamored" by Fred Kagan's writing and foreign policy recommendations. Bill Kristol hailed Obama as a "born-again neocon" for his war in Libya. Since the day he was inaugurated, President Obama expanded current wars, started new ones, opened new bases in Africa, and thumped his chest over his extrajudicial assassinations, drone strikes, and kill list.
Obama and Ryan may temper their warmongering and overseas aggression with different rhetoric, but their foreign policies are indistinguishable.
When it comes to civil liberties and the restraints on government imposed by the Bill of Rights, again we see Ryan as an enemy of limited government. Ryan voted to extend the PATRIOT Act, for CISPA, for DOMA, and three times in favor of the NDAA. Ryan's affirmative votes reveal that the civil liberties enshrined in the Constitution - rights that have been fought for over 800 years and represent the pinnacle of Western political thought - take a backseat to the federal government's exercise of force over others.
President Obama would agree. He signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act and the NDAA. Ryan's claims of support for limited government and claims of love for Ayn Rand notwithstanding, one wonders whether Ryan believes any limits should be imposed on state power.
On domestic programs and spending, which conservatives have fallen over themselves to praise him for, Ryan has voted for nearly every expansion of government spending, especially when his party was in charge. In 2010, the Republican Liberty Caucus of Wisconsin published a detailed analysis of his voting record that would make President Obama proud. Ryan voted yes on TARP, the 2008 stimulus, the GM and Chrysler bailouts, Medicare Part D, Head Start, an extension of unemployment benefits, No Child Left Behind, and the raising of the debt ceiling. Combine this record with a rhetoric of dissent that conveniently began appearing when a Democrat was elected, and it's hard to take Ryan - or his conservative supporters - seriously.
There has, however, been a lot of attention dedicated to his supposed desire to "gut Medicare." First of all, Medicare is in some deep short-term and long-term trouble. Even if one isn't persuaded by the libertarian argument against state welfare, Medicare is currently funded by borrowed money that continues to lose its value every year, and the entire entitlement-welfare system will have over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities by 2050. This is obviously unsustainable.
What Ryan wants to do is create a "voucher" system, where we will continue this debt-and-inflation model only with a corporatist twist. "Vouchers" are corporate welfare disguised as "free market solutions," where politically-connected industries rent-seek and lobby for the funds the state steals from your paycheck. Funneling borrowed and depreciating money into Wall Street and fractional-reserve banking instead of into the Treasury Department is just the Republicans' brand of socialism, not "right-wing social engineering." as Newt Gingrich once described it. Both Obama and Romney have accused each other of wanting to "gut Medicare," and they're both right.
And this somehow fires conservatives up and drives liberals mad? Paul Ryan, like his boss Mitt Romney, has a record and belief in virtually unlimited state power that mirrors President Obama's view of government, the Constitution, and presidential powers. Plenty of shady business deals too. A different delivery and tone, perhaps, but both want coercive power and the ability to use it frequently and expensively, at home and anywhere in the globe.
With this kind of "choice," I can't help but root for chaos in Tampa.