With the American public divided over the choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate in this year’s presidential election, Evan O’Quigley takes a look at Ryan’s life and accomplishments.
America stopped and stood in confusion when Paul Ryan, a Representative of Wisconsin, was announced as Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s running mate. It was long suspected that Romney would choose a more conservative candidate in order to satisfy the hard-right tea-party republican base. The most talked about included Marco Rubio, a Florida Senator who is both Tea Party approved and from a battleground state that would give Romney a major advantage, among Florida natives and among the Hispanic community. Other possible running mates for Romney included Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Rob Portman. Paul Ryan, who has represented his district since 1999, has come to fame more recently as the architect of what is now widely known as the ‘Ryan Budget’, which has given the Wisconsin congressman a reputation as a fiscal hawk and a hard-line economic libertarian.
Ryan was born in Wisconsin, the youngest of four children to a Catholic father of Irish ancestry, and a mother of English and German descent. Ryan attended a Catholic School before going on to major in economics and political science in Miami University in Ohio. It was here where Ryan developed his political beliefs. He became interested in the writings of libertarian right-wing economists Fredrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and the monetarist Milton Friedman. It was also here that he discovered his philosophical hero Ayn Rand, a Russian-American novelist and playwright and a major figure in American libertarianism and objectivism. Although unlike the devoutly Catholic and socially conservative Ryan, Rand extended these beliefs beyond economics, and also rejected religious moral teachings in favour of individual freedom. Since joining the Romney ticket, Ryan has further distanced himself from Rand in order to present himself as less ideological to swing voters.
The Paul Ryan budget largely consists of measures to slash government benefits, most notably the state health-care service Medicare. Ryan has been long accused of making attempts to ‘end Medicare as we know it’, something which president Obama campaign has accused the vice presidential hopeful of on more in emails to voters. As well as reducing federal spending the Ryan budget also proposes a number of tax cuts, largely for the rich and for corporations, which Ryan and the Tea-Party base argue would allow for further job creation and stimulate the economy.
Ryan’s budget has been lauded by fiscal conservatives including current speaker of the house John Boehner and house majority leader Eric Cantor, two of the most influential Republicans. Ryan has come to be seen as an ideological heavyweight within the hard-right faction of the Republican Party, most notably among Tea Party members. Ryan’s deficit reduction plan has also been widely criticised. Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winning economist and columnist for the New York Times has described Ryan’s budget as a ‘joke’ and a ‘con game’. Likewise, noted Republican economist David Stockman, who served as a budget director to Ronald Reagan, described Ryan’s budget plan as being “devoid of credible math or hard policy choices”, and would do “nothing to reverse the nation’s economic decline and arrest its fiscal collapse”. An independent report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the vast majority of Americans were not in favour of the benefit cuts in the Ryan Budget, although more were in favour of some tax cuts.
Ryan is an unusual character in many ways. He is often described as being a principled individual, that can attract non-conservative voters that admire this characteristic, yet he has changed position on many major issues. He is a known largely as a fiscal conservative, who opposes government spending and intervention in the economy. Yet in 2002, arguing for a stimulus in his State, he gave a full-throated defence of Keynesian economic stimulus. He has also declared himself a fan of the liberal comedian and political commentator Jon Stewart, someone who would have very little in common with Ryan. He claims his favourite band to be Rage Against the Machine, a noted left-wing group who have had several music videos directed by Michael Moore.
Tom Morello, the group’s frontman had some harsh words for Ryan upon hearing this news. “Paul Ryan’s love of Rage Against the Machine is amusing, because he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades”, Morello wrote in Rolling Stone earlier this month. Morello stated that Ryan had not rage against the machine, but a rage against “women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, and a rage against the environment. Basically the only thing he’s not raging against is the privileged elite he’s grovelling in front of for campaign contributions.”
As well as having a reputation as an ardent fiscal hawk, Ryan is a noted social conservative, appealing to his Tea Party base. He is a staunch pro-lifer, believing that all Abortion should be made illegal, including in the case of rape or incest. He is a dedicated Catholic who has introduced legislation to ban certain forms of contraceptives. He opposes same-sex marriage and has supported a constitutional ban of it. He opposed the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, a law which required gay and lesbian men and women to hide their homosexuality while in combat. He is an advocate of gun rights, being a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and has received an ‘A’ rating from the organisation on his record of gun rights.
On foreign policy he sits in line with most Republicans in favour of military action, and supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has however shows some signs of originality within the republican party, being one of the few to vote to end the embargo on trade with Cuba arguing that ‘If we’re going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?’
It can be seen that while Romney is seen largely by many (although he has shifted further right in order to satisfy the Republican base in this year’s primary) as a moderate at heart, Ryan is the true capital-C Conservative. If Romney is elected, Ryan will be to him and economic and social policy what Dick Cheney was to George W. Bush on foreign policy. In other words, he’ll be the one really pulling the strings.