As the gold-dust settles on one four-year cycle — the London Olympiad — another — the American presidential race — intensifies as its Nov 6 day-of-reckoning approaches.
Last week’s announcement by Republican candidate Mitt Romney that Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan would be his running mate offers Americans the option of voting for a ticket more radically, uncompromisingly conservative than any in living memory.
But, as ever, election campaigns confer a transient truth on policies that are often forgotten once the desired result has been achieved. Already Romney has insisted that his budget policies, not Ryan’s, will prevail should he defy the polls and oust President Obama.
If that is the case, and it’s far too early to say that it is, then Ryan is being cast in a Palinesque role to secure votes from the Republican faithful who do not think Romney is as committed as they might like him to be to budgetary reform. There, however, comparisons with the bizarre and hugely entertaining — for all the wrong reasons — Sarah Palin end.
Ryan is a formidable, attractive, if not charismatic, performer and, at the relatively young age of 42, has built a considerable support base amongst neo-conservatives and Tea Party activists for his uncompromising determination to confront America’s multi-trillion-dollar debt crisis.
He is not afraid to seem a zealot. Last year, introducing his slash-and-burn plan to change Medicare, cut Medicaid, cut taxes and push the US back towards a balanced budget, Ryan said: “This is not a budget. This is a cause.”
He is vehemently anti-abortion, though he stridently defends America’s gun laws. He has, to complete the package of cliches, opposed measures to reform and control Wall Street. It almost goes without saying that most of his proposals would outrage liberal Europeans and give those committed to renewing the Croke Park deal a few sleepless nights.
However, Ryan’s legislative record is not impressive. Though he has supported many bills he has manage to have only two of his own enacted. The first renamed a post office and four years later the second lowered excise duties on the materials used to make arrows.
Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee. In that role he has focussed on fiscal policy and has proposed privatising social security and replacing Medicare with a voucher programme for pensioners. This role may confer a certain aura of authority on economic matters but his party’s obstruction of nearly every budget reform proposed by President Obama over the last four years greatly undermines the Republicans’ credibility in this area. Their policy of blocking his proposals and then accusing him of failing to resolve an escalating crisis may play well on Fox News but will hardly sway moderate Republicans or non-party voters.
And the lesson for Ireland and Europe? Confront and resolve economic problems quickly or ever-more extreme voices will move into the limelight.
Considering the prevarication of Europe’s political leaders in the face of the worst economic crisis since before World War II it seems a miracle that we do not have at least one Paul Ryan of our own.
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