Paul Ryan: Careful what you wish for

A Romney win just got scarier -- he'd have a mandate and a partner determined to repeal the New Deal

Topics: 2012 Elections, Paul Ryan,

Paul Ryan: Careful what you wish forNewly announced Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, addresses the crowd Saturday (Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer)

Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his nominee for vice president achieved something remarkable in the modern history of U.S. presidential elections. He made both sides ecstatic. Conservatives are in a state of euphoria — Ryan, despite his many deficit-expanding votes during the Bush administration, is a true believer’s true believer. Every doubt that conservatives have about Romney is matched by the faith that they place in Ryan. Romney, amazingly, just made himself the Potemkin figurehead of his own administration.

But liberals likewise profess themselves enthused. Medicare is back on the menu, boys! Now there’s just no way Romney will be able to run away and hide from the draconian, social welfare-slashing Ryan budget. A million senior-scaring attack ads are likely already in production; Florida has a brand-new boogeyman.  Some pundits are boldly calling the choice a Hail Mary act of desperation; only someone watching the election slip away would hand such a golden opportunity to his opponents.

But before liberals start cheering too hard, they might want to think this through. If the Romney-Ryan team wins, a future in which Paul Ryan eventually becomes president of the United States becomes more likely than not. That’s a future in which the New Deal is repealed. So be careful what you wish for.

You know who the real winners are? Wonks! Back in 2008, wonks had a field day comparing the merits of Obama’s (no mandate) and Hillary Clinton’s (yes mandate) healthcare plans. But ever since Romney secured the Republican nomination, it’s been a wonk nightmare. There’s no there there in his policy proposals, no numbers to crunch, no planks in his platform. But now we’ve got the Ryan plan to crank on. We’ve got details! Sure, they might be details that poll horribly when explained to the average voter, but they invite serious engagement nonetheless. Get used to it — because we’re all going to be getting up to speed on the cost-benefit analysis of Medicare vouchers lickety-split.

Because, crazily, that’s what this “choice” election just became about. Voucher math. Rising healthcare costs are the real budget buster. Say what you will about how the math of the Ryan budget seems peculiar (lower taxes, raise defense spending, slash the most popular government safety net programs — really?) but the Wisconsin representative does strive to address this fundamental driver of our burgeoning  national debt. Instead of having the government tackle the challenge of lowering healthcare costs directly, Ryan wants to outsource that responsibility to the users.

The notion is attractive to libertarians and depends on an efficiently working free market. Instead of having Medicare or Medicaid simply pay your bills, you’ll get a voucher that you can spend yourself. The theory is that if we are spending our “own” money we’ll be more careful in picking  and choosing the healthcare services we need. Similarly, the providers of those services will be forced to compete for our precious dollars, so they’ll have to lower their prices or deliver them more efficiently. The invisible hand will, so the theory goes, bring down the cost of getting that MRI. Hey, it works for fast food delivery and private car hire service in Brooklyn, so why not for healthcare?

Of course, before massively reworking a program that millions of Americans depend on, it would be nice if Ryan could point to an example where vouchers have been tested on a large scale. Unfortunately, no other rich developed country has tried anything like Ryan’s system. And there’s a pretty good reason for that — healthcare is not like other markets. When you’re dying of cancer, you don’t look for that low-cost solution to your medical needs; you want the solution that gives you the best chance of survival, or any chance of survival. You want that extra CAT scan. And if you are the person responsible for making medical decisions for your loved one, you’re not inclined to scrimp and save.

The providers of healthcare services have us over the barrel in situations where we or our loved ones are in life-threatening medical circumstances. When the alternative to not paying is death, we will pay. And if we don’t have enough to cover the costs, those costs aren’t guaranteed to come down. So people will die.

Civilized countries find this repugnant. Civilized countries also understand that the government has huge leverage to force lower costs, should it choose to use its power. The most disgusting part of the Medicare Part D drug prescription benefit (which Paul Ryan voted for, by the way) was not that there was no funding mechanism included with it, but that the federal government was explicitly forbidden from using its immense buying power to negotiate lower prices from the drug companies.

A boring campaign just became really interesting. Red states may well get even redder for Romney as a result of the Ryan pick. The base loves the notion of itself as “anti-nanny state.” But in states like Florida, seniors are going to take a long hard look at voucher math. If they don’t like what they see, Florida may well move directly into Obama’s win column, and that, in turn, could easily decide the election.

Reason for liberals to be excited, for sure. Except if Romney wins, because then it will be very difficult to argue that the nation didn’t make a meaningful choice.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>