I did not know much about Congressman Paul Ryan when Mitt Romney announced his choice for Vice President. I had seen him doing one of those Republican responses to the President’s State of the Union, or some such speech. From what I saw, he spoke well, looked young and fit, and did not produce in me any immediate, negative reaction. He seemed a little unemotional, but, as a Catholic, I felt a certain affinity to this young, energetic guy with the Irish name. In my mind, how bad could he be?
Once I heard he was the choice for VP, I figured I better do my homework on Paul Ryan. I read a good article in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/06/120806fa_fact_lizza), written just days prior to Saturday’s announcement. I looked at information on his web page about his budget proposal. I read articles on the webpage for the Tax Policy Center (http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/). In searching these documents, I did so concerned that Mr. Ryan may harbor some of the same illusions as his running mate about how easy it is for poor people to rise above their worsening economic circumstances. I have written previously on my belief that Mr. Romney’s comments abroad suggested a lack of perspective when it came to the socio-economic forces standing in the way of upward mobility for many Americans. Was Mr. Ryan another Social Darwinist using his personal life experience as a yardstick for measuring the upward mobility of his fellow Americans?
The answer seems to be a hardened “yes”. In reaching that conclusion, I believe Mr. Ryan is probably a good man who believes fervently in the views he espouses so energetically. But his record is unmistakable and deserves your scrutiny. His current proposal radically cuts funding to Medicaid by making Medicaid a block grant program. He proposes massive tax cuts with few details on where much of the money will come from to offset these cuts. His plans for a two-tiered personal income tax system with rates of 10% and 25% would drastically reduce revenue, but he refuses to consider higher rates for the wealthiest Americans. This ensures that millions of poor and middle class voters will pick up the slack. His plan for Medicare ventures raises serious questions about whether those vouchers will keep pace with rising health care costs. Make no mistake, his policies and proposals reflect choices. He believes that saving money for rich people and their businesses beats providing the most basic aid to poor people. There is no other explanation for these policies. What makes them especially abhorrent is that Mr. Ryan has no personal life experience that would justify the extraordinary degree of certainty he brings to policy positions that work such harsh consequences on the most vulnerable in our society. Even the Catholic Bishops take issue with the morality of his budget choices.
I also have yet to see justification for the claim that he is the “detail” man for the Republicans on budget issues. In searching these documents, I see a massive tax cut with lots of gaps on how these cuts will be funded. I also see gaps in Mr. Ryan’s perspective. Like his running mate, he has never had to wonder whether his family will be safe financially. He has not had to consider life without health insurance or walking to work in a crime-ridden neighborhood. I don’t think his safety net has every been in real jeopardy. From what I can tell, he has not held a job in the private sector since high school. And while you could say the same thing about me on many of these points, the difference is that I know it. What makes these guys scary is that they believe their own success justifies policies that rely upon a creed that says the path to success for all Americans can follow a route similar to theirs. When it comes to making decisions on how the most vulnerable in our society will be treated, I think I will cast my lot with the guy whose character was forged in more challenging circumstances and whose perspective casts a pessimistic eye on the idea that investing in our richest citizens will somehow benefit the least of us.