By Bob Cesca: The smartest thing about the choice of Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate is that in order to criticize him, Democrats will have to get wonky about it.
There's nothing wrong with being wonky, of course, but details about policy -- especially budget and economic policy -- don't tend to resonate as well with casual observers of news and politics who simply tune out halfway through the word "fiduciary." Meanwhile, there's clearly no legitimate way to say he's a doofus who can't talk without choking on his own tongue, as Democrats could with Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin. It would be a stretch to create an evil supervillain narrative around Ryan as was done with Dick Cheney.
So where are Paul Ryan's most accessible weaknesses?
Primarily, Ryan is cut from a similar cloth as Romney. Both sides of the ticket hold current positions that are in direct conflict with their previous agendas, and since this is an existing problem for Romney, it's not a stretch to exploit Ryan's weakness here as well.
We know for sure that Ryan will be an attack dog on the president's record regarding the stimulus, government spending, the deficit and the debt. But as a member of the House, it's extraordinarily difficult for him to justify the fact that part of his job -- written into the Constitution, in fact -- is to vote on appropriations (one of the reasons why hardly any members of the House are successful presidential candidates). So he has a considerable record of voting for legislation and policies that literally created the current deficit and debt.
Let's do the list of the biggies.
TARP. Surely the Republicans will continue to demonize the "bailout" in 2008, otherwise known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008) and inexplicably blame it on the Democrats even though it was the Bush White House that proposed the bailout. Paul Ryan voted yes for the bill and, with his vote, $700 billion was handed over to the nation's financial institutions in order to keep them in business.
AUTO BAILOUT. Paul Ryan also voted for President Bush's 2008 $14 billion bailout of the auto industry (separate from President Obama's subsequent $60 billion bailout).
THE 2008 BUSH STIMULUS. What the hell? You mean Bush passed a stimulus? Why, I thought "stimulus" was horrible trespass against conservatism! Oh, and Paul Ryan voted for that one, too. It turns out that prior to January 20, 2009, presidents of both parties routinely passed stimulus programs to jump-start economic growth. Contrary to modern conservative dogma, stimulus plans aren't just the purview of commie Kenyans.
MEDICARE PART-D. Ryan also voted for President Bush's Medicare Part-D prescription drug program, which, like most of Bush's policies, wasn't paid for -- the fiscally responsible thing to do. Instead, he voted for $16 trillion in unfunded spending added to the national debt. (The Republicans appear to have only discovered the existence of the national debt on January 20, 2009. Prior to that, and based on 2000-2008 spending habits, I'm not sure they were aware of the concept.)
THE IRAQ and AFGHANISTAN WARS. Yes, Paul Ryan voted for both wars and all of the various supplemental spending bills along the way. At least $1.5 trillion in deficit spending without any budget offset or pay-as-you-go legislation that ultimately accounts for around 10 percent of our long-term national debt. Paul Ryan voted yes all along the way.
THE BUSH TAX CUTS. And of course Paul Ryan voted for the Bush tax cuts. As of last year, the tax cuts for the wealthiest five percent of Americans cost the government $1,034,424,338,581 in revenue, thus significantly contributing to deficit and the debt. If the Bush tax cuts are renewed for the richest Americans, they'll be the largest contributor to the deficit and debt by 2019 -- by a trillions of dollars, more than all of the other debt-drivers combined.
Everything here, minus President Obama's stimulus, has contributed to most of the current deficit and national debt. And regarding the president's stimulus package, Paul Ryan voted against it, and yet by every economic indicator (short of the slow-to-recover unemployment rate) it absolutely worked. GDP, job creation, the stock market, housing and so forth have all rebounded as a direct result of the economic recovery sparked by the stimulus.
Okay, so all of that stuff was still pretty wonky. But the broader, more accessible point remains: like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan has no choice but to run away from his record in order to continue the ruse for the sake of the tea party base. And the Democrats would do well to emphasize the Romney/Ryan duplicity.