About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A primer on Romney's VP, Paul Galt (er, Ryan)

Everything you always wanted to know about Paul Ryan, courtesy of The American Prospect's election newsletter, Ringside Seat!

After a campaign spent pandering slavishly to the right, Mitt Romney has finally inspired a giddy burst of bipartisan consensus: On the right and left, everyone’s jumping for joy about his new running mate. For conservatives who’ve always regarded the former “Massachusetts moderate” with flinty suspicion, it wasn’t enough for Romney to endorse and effusively praise Paul Ryan’s infamous budget—a plan that would give the richest Americans an average tax cut of at least $150,000 a year and cap Medicare benefits, meaning that seniors would fall further and further behind over time. They didn’t believe Romney. But now, with Ryan on the ticket, it’s clear that Mitt fully intends to bomb the social safety net back to the 19th century, and to turn America into a land of super-haves and 99 percent have-nots. 
The Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie has long argued that Romney truly meant it when he embraced Ryan’s blend of Austrian economics. And if anyone still had a doubt who will be setting economic policy in a Romney administration, he did introduce his pick this morning on the USS Wisconsin as “the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan.” It was a slip of the tongue, but also a grim reminder: What Dick Cheney was to foreign policy, Ryan would be to domestic policy—terrifyingly running the show, albeit with a dash of homespun, blue-eyed charm.

But if the prospect of Ryan as economic commander-in-chief is enough to send any liberal (or moderate) into a depressive funk, the idea of running against him gets the blood up. It’s guaranteed to have that effect on President Obama, who in many ways has already been running against Ryan. The single most rip-roaring speech of the 2012 Obama campaign was back in April, when the president picked apart the Ryan budget in devastating detail and memorably described it as “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” Ryan was in the audience that day, sitting right on the front row, and was reported to have been visibly fuming as the president eviscerated his plan, saying that it “paints a picture of our future that is deeply pessimistic." 

The president has been trying all along to persuade his somewhat dispirited supporters that this is a high-stakes election—a referendum on the country’s future economic direction. Now, thanks to Romney’s risky choice of a light-on-experience economic extremist as his Cheney, Obama won’t have to do any more convincing. But he still has to sell the dangers of the Romney/Ryan plan to the rest of the country. 
“We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget.”
  • Although Paul Ryan has been one of the most polarizing and oft-debated figures in government among pundits and politicos, he's an unknown quantity for most of America. 
  • Ryan got his start as a staffer on the Hill, making ends meet slinging margaritas and whipping Washingtonians into shape. He was even trusted to drive theWienermobile during his tenure as an Oscar Meyer salesperson.
  • But that salesperson background could backfire. Ryan might come across to many Americans as robotic as his running mate. 
  • After all, he was voted "Biggest Brown-Noser" in high school. 
  • He was first elected to Congress at age 28, and he's only 42 now. That means Ryan is going to be around for a loooooooooooooong time, regardless of whether the Republican tickets wins this White House tug-of-war. That is, unless he turns into campaign kryptonite like Sarah Palin. 
  • Ryan also has some Ryan Gosling cred. Just check out his "Hey Girl" Tumblr. 
  • Apparently the House Budget Committee chair loves noodling. Here is thedefinitive primer on noodling. 
  • He also has very serious hair. Here are 21 pictures of it being oh so serious
  • Ryan is Catholic, which means this is the first time a Protestant hasn't been on a presidential ticket ever
  • When asked why he didn't choose to articulate his positions by running for president this year, he said, "Well, that's because I like myself too much." 
  • Remember what Newt Gingrich said about the Ryan Plan? "I don't think right wing social engineering is any more desirable than left wing social engineering. I don't think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate." 
  • He also has a history of trying to spread the objectivist gospel“I give out ‘Atlas Shrugged’ [by Ayn Rand] as Christmas presents, and I make all my interns read it. Well … I try to make my interns read it."
  • Not everyone is scared of Ryan's vaunted intellectual prowess. Paul Krugman said of the Ryan budget in 2010: "it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce." 
            • Paul Ryan might be as disastrous for the GOP as Sarah Palin was four years ago...
            • ...which may mean that Barack Obama is the politician looking most forward to his place on the GOP ballot. 
            • Especially since this means the GOP ticket seems driven to relive the Bush years...
            • ... a time that the current administration gleefully jumps to deride at every opportunity. 
            • Even in 2011, we were saying that Paul Ryan would be crushed if he ever ran for higher office.
            • But he's clearly been thinking "about how the words 'Vice President Ryan' sound" for quite some time. 
            • As far as party battles go, where one falls on the Ryan budget "is about as clean and plain as an ideological dispute gets."
            • And now is the time for reporters and pundits to seriously delve into Paul Ryan's political vision, and not be led astray by his wonky charm as they have been before.
                                  WHAT WE'RE READING ABOUT RYAN
                                                            POLL OF THE DAY
                                                            Here’s one measure of how risky Romney’s vice-presidential choice could prove. Last year, CNN polled the country on Paul Ryan’s radical plan for “reforming” Medicare. Fifty-eight percent opposed it; just 35 percent liked it. 

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