In picking Rep. Paul Ryan, the House budget committee chairman, as his vice presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has obviously attempted to reset the tone and scope of the presidential debate. Yet the quandary that poses for Romney is undeniable.
Ryan's House-approved budgets the past two years aim to: gut Medicare and turn it into to a declining voucher program; diminish and privatize Social Security; cut Medicaid for the poor and its nursing home coverage for formerly middle-class Americans; slash safety spending by 60 percent; reduce student aid; give more tax breaks to corporations and the ultra-wealthy; and raise taxes on the nation's broad middle class, mainly by eliminating their tax breaks, including home mortgages. But it still doesn't project a balanced budget until 2040, largely because it calls for huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and a promise to keep raising the Pentagon's budget with inflation.
Romney can hardly advance that documented fiscal approach as his own agenda and win the presidency. So it's no coincidence that within a day of announcing his choice of Ryan and basking in the tea party limelight with him, Romney quietly began spreading the word that Ryan's budget views would not rule his policies. Which raises the questions, why Ryan, and what, specifically, are Romney's own fiscal goals?
The answer to "why Ryan" is that Romney expects Ryan's bent for social extremism will boost the GOP's tea party turnout in November. That's certainly the way conservatives are reading it. Americans for Limited Government, for example, asserted Monday that Ryan's proposals now will be "front and center in the presidential campaign going forward."
But with Romney already feeling compelled to dismiss Ryan's budget leadership over extremists in the House, it's clear that Romney just wants the image of Ryan, without the substance or the baggage.
Never mind. Romney can't run well with Ryan, and simultaneously run away from the reason he picked him. He now owns Ryan's fiscal policies, and he will delineated by them -- largely because he articulated support for Ryan's unbalanced approach during the primaries, while Newt Gingrich rejected them as "right-wing social engineering."
In any case, Romney's own promises to cut taxes on dividends, capital gains the higher income tax margins -- all cuts that most benefit the top tier of the top 1 percent -- effectively proposes substantially deeper tax cuts than the disastrous cuts that George W. Bush cuts of 2001 and 2003.
In fact, the Romney/Ryan team presents Americans with a stark choice. Turning ever further to the right, where rich corporations and individuals are given what they want, where health care reform is denied, and where 60 percent of the nation's safety net is eliminated, is not a sane route for this nation to take. It would hurt 95 percent of Americans, and leave those most in need without the leavening hand of government when they are unemployed, uninsured, young and poor, old and vulnerable, seeking college aid or food stamps or care for chronic conditions. This direction, as the nation's Catholic bishops have warned, is essentially immoral.
The November election has now become a referendum on the nation's moral character and future prosperity: a choice between looking out for the common good, or nurturing a Darwinian rapaciousness.