The Marketing of Paul Ryan Romney’s ‘libertarian’ running mate is anything but

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The Romney campaign is making a major effort to reach out to the Tea Party, grassroots conservative activists, and Ron Paul's libertarian supporters. They've not only invited Rand Paul to speak at the Tampa convention, they've also scheduled a u201CTribute to Ron Paulu201D video to be shown to the delegates. However, these are mere crumbs: the video is not likely to highlight Paul's more interesting positions, such as his vociferous opposition to the American empire and its endless wars.

No, the real cake, complete with quasi-u201Clibertarianu201D frosting, is Paul Ryan, whose addition to the ticket opens up the prospect of having Ayn Rand, the late novelist and philosopher of u201CObjectivism,u201D become a campaign issue. I can't wait for someone to accuse the Republicans of endorsing u201Cterrorismu201D on the grounds that The Fountainhead, Rand's best-selling 1943 novel, climaxes with the hero blowing up a home for mentally challenged orphans. Oh wait

That some u201Clibertariansu201D are ready, willing, and able to swallow this guff, I have no doubt. They claim Ryan u201Cgets the free market.u201D Well, whoop-de-doo! So does the Chinese Communist party, these days.

However, he doesn't really u201Cget itu201D at all, not even to the extent that the heirs of Deng Xiaoping do, because he thinks we can still have an overseas empire and a u201Climitedu201D government, with low taxes and u201Cfreeu201D enterprise. The Chicoms – to use right-wing Republican phraseology – are u201Cisolationists,u201D i.e. their foreign policy amounts to minding their own business and making as much money as possible. Ryan, on the other hand, is all about maintaining u201CAmerican leadershipu201D in the world, and the way he tells it, u201Cleadershipu201D is a polite euphemism for domination.

In a speech before the Alexander Hamilton Society – where else? – Ryan gave full-throated expression to what American foreign policy would look like under his watch, and while the vice-presidency is an office with little power, from the tone of the speech the office of the Vice President in a Republican administration would once again become a nest of neocons lobbying for more and bigger wars.

Ryan may be a neocon drone, but he's no Dan Quayle: he realizes, as he put it in his talk to the Hamiltonians, that u201Cour fiscal policy and our foreign policy are on a collision course; and if we fail to put our budget on a sustainable path, then we are choosing decline as a world power.u201D

Translation: we can't have an empire, given our present financial straits. So what's the solution? To any normal American, who never wanted an empire to begin with, the answer is simple: give up the imperial pretensions to u201Cglobal leadership,u201D and tend to our own ill-used and leached-out garden. Ryan, however, is a creature of Washington, and this is unthinkable inside the Beltway: it would be a most grievous blow to the self-esteem of these worthies if they had to exchange the imperial purple for a plain republican cloth coat. Why, no Serious Person would even suggest such a thing! So instead of stating the facts, he makes up some of his own:

u201COur fiscal crisis is above all a spending crisis that is being driven by the growth of our major entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In 1970, these programs consumed about 20 percent of the budget. Today that number has grown to over 40 percent.

u201COver the same period, defense spending has shrunk as a share of the federal budget from about 39 percent to just under 16 percent – even as we conduct an ambitious global war on terrorism. The fact is, defense consumes a smaller share of the national economy today than it did throughout the Cold War.u201D

This is a flat out fabrication. As David Callahan of Reuters put it:

u201CRyan is wrong – and misleading – when he argues that defense spending is shrinking. He says that defense as a percentage of GDP has declined from its u2018Cold War average of 7.5 percent to 4.6 percent today.' What he doesn't say is that this share is up from the 1990s. Defense spending ranged between 3 percent and 3.4 percent of GDP from 1996 to 2001, according to budget data from the Office of Management and Budget. Likewise, while Ryan says that such spending as a percentage of all federal outlays is down from 25 percent three decades ago to 20 percent today, he doesn't mention that defense spending constituted just 16 percent of federal outlays in 1999.u201D

The infamous Ryan budget wants to raise military spending and declares any cuts off limits because, don't you know, it's a u201Cstrategicu201D matter, and not a question of dollars-and-cents. But what is this grand u201Cstrategicu201D vision he wants to throw money at?

u201CDecline is a choice,u201D avers Ryan, citing neocon oracle Charles Krauthammer, but he never defines his terms, only implies their meaning. What is u201Cdeclineu201D? To Ryan, the supposed free market fundamentalist, it has little to do with economics, but is essentially measured by military power. He excoriates Britain for u201Cceding leadership of the Western world to the United Statesu201D at u201Cthe turn of the century.u201D Yet the Brits, exhausted by decades of taking up the u201Cwhite man's burden,u201D had no choice but to pull back: the alternative was to pour money and lives into fighting insurgent peoples from India to Africa and the Far East.

Does Ryan really believe the Brits should've held on to India in spite of Gandhi's heroic struggle for independence? Try explaining that one to the Indian Ambassador, Mr. Vice President.

Yes, Ryan is right when he declares that u201Cthe unsustainable trajectory of government spending is accelerating the nation toward the most predictable economic crisis in American history.u201D What was even more predictable, however, is the response of our elites, who refuse to even scale down, never mind abandon, their grandiose visions of a world-spanning hegemony, because they are ideologically and most important of all emotionally invested in the imperial project. They like comparing themselves to the lords and ladies of the former British empire, and indeed in Washington we have all the pomp and circumstance except for the hereditary titles.

Ryan claims u201Cyears of ignoring the real drivers of our debt have left us with a profound structural problem,u201D and to him this means throwing grandmothers out in the street rather than cut one dime from billions going to Lockheed. The u201CRyan budget,u201D endorsed by House Republicans, would cancel planned cuts in the growth rate of military appropriations, and increase the Pentagon's budget by $20 billion. He's right that the trajectory of our debt-to-income ratio is u201Ccatastrophic,u201D yet is patently dishonest in describing what or who is driving us over a fiscal cliff.

I might add that the figures Ryan cites omit the costs of the Iraq, Afghan, and other wars, effectively disappearing $1.4 trillion in debt accrued since 9/11, as Callahan points out. Another dishonest sleight-of-hand from the man who recommends Atlas Shrugged to all his new staff hires. Perhaps Ryan has forgotten one of the key passages of that novel, where the hero describes what Rand considered to be the virtue of honesty:

u201CHonesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value, that neither love nor fame nor cash is a value if obtained by fraud – that an attempt to gain a value by deceiving the mind of others is an act of raising your victims to a position higher than reality, where you become a pawn of their blindness, a slave of their non-thinking and their evasions, while their intelligence, their rationality, their perceptiveness become the enemies you have to dread and flee.u201D

Ryan had better start fleeing now, and get a head start, because it's going to be a very long campaign season.

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