by Bruce Thornton
Last week’s poll numbers seemingly confirmed the doubts about democracy’s viability expressed in last week’s column. After a barrage of outrageous smears fired off by the Obama campaign, which accused Romney of killing a woman with cancer and failing to pay any income tax, Obama is leading Romney by 7-9 points. Coming on top of the continuing approval of Obama’s economically disastrous, class-envious assault on the “rich,” the success of patent lies in improving Obama’s numbers makes one think that democracy’s critics may be right: most people lack the ability to see past their selfish, short-term interests and make electoral decisions that benefit the state as a whole.
But let’s not give up on democracy yet. Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential candidate should give us hope that maybe a critical mass of Americans will rise above petty self-interest and do what must be done to keep the United States from morphing into California on its way to becoming Greece on steroids.
Judged solely on political expediency, Romney’s choice seems a disaster. According to “one of the country’s most prominent and influential conservatives,” as the Huffington Post claims of its anonymous commentator, Ryan is too much like Romney, a wonky white guy too polished and detached from the average American. Ryan, this unknown Solon continues, can’t deliver any electoral votes, is too obsessive about the deficit, has been tarred by his zeal to reform Medicare, and fails the “3 a.m. crisis call” test. No wonder some Democrats are happy about the choice. “Democrats are gleefully united in bashing Rep. Paul Ryan,” Politico’s John Bresnahan writes, “blasting him as the author of the controversial ‘Ryan budget,’ claiming his proposals ‘end Medicare,’ and warning that his policies will return the country to the ‘trickle-down economics’ of the 1980s and the presidency of George W. Bush.”
We’ll soon know if the Dems are whistling past the graveyard. But if we forget political expediency and think about principle, the choice of Paul Ryan should give us hope that the defining crisis of our times — the fiscal apocalypse fast approaching if we don’t cut back on spending, debt, and deficits — will be confronted, and the tough policies needed to mitigate it be frankly acknowledged.
Paul Ryan has been the only politician to do just that. His budget plan cuts spending to 20% of GDP by 2022, cuts the deficit to 2% of GDP by 2050, and reforms the tax code so that revenues stay near the historical 20% level by 2015, saving $5 trillion. In contrast, under Obama’s budget, spending rises to 24%. If nothing is done to rein in spending, debt will rise to 800% of GDP. And if history is any guide — tax revenues average around 20% no matter how high the rates — Obama’s plan to raise tax rates will not generate enough money to pay the government’s bills. That’s why the Ryan plan reforms the tax code to make it more efficient and more pro-growth while maintaining revenues.
Finally, given that entitlement spending will devour all tax revenues by 2050, the Ryan plan reforms Medicaid and Medicare, controlling cost by adding choice and market competition to both programs. One can criticize Ryan’s plan and fault some of its details or assumptions, but at least Ryan has put somethingon the table, unlike the Democrats, who have not passed a budget in three years. Back in February, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner admitted that his boss had no plan to solve the debt and deficit problem: “You are right to say we’re not coming before you today to say ‘we have a definitive solution to that long term problem.’ What we do know is, we don’t like yours.” No wonder, then, that the Democrats have smeared Ryan and his plan with outright lies. Democratic National Committee Chairman Debbie Wasserman Schultz recycled those distortions by saying of Ryan’s plan, “It suggests that we should end Medicare as we know it, shred the safety net for seniors in healthcare that we had in place for more than 50 years, turn Medicare into a block grants (sic) and send it to the states, which would really jeopardize seniors in nursing homes, potentially take 10 million students off of Pell Grants, cut healthcare, cut education.” And it took just a few hours after Ryan was picked as Romney’s VP candidate for the notorious Medicare ad showing Ryan pushing granny off a cliff to resurface, confirming that irrational emotion rather than sober discussion and debate is all the Obamites can appeal to.
The most important consequence of picking Ryan, however, is that it clarifies what the election is really about — reining in an out-of-control federal government that if the current policies continue will bankrupt this country and eat away at our freedom. It focuses the choice between two visions: one that sees the energy, creativity, and autonomy of free individuals as the best way to create prosperity and guarantee our freedom; the other that considers techno-elites in government bureaucracies better able to manage more and more of our affairs.
The critics of democracy have always argued that most people are incapable of choosing wisely, and so they need “guardians,” as Plato put it, to limit and guide their choices, backed by the coercive power of the state. The latter vision has dominated our government for the last several decades, and its wages are evident in the current fiscal implosion of California and the Eurozone. Nor are the reasons for this failure beyond the understanding of most people. The fiscal crisis we face is a simple question of mathematics: lavish social welfare entitlements work until you run out of other people’s money, which is what we are currently doing.
The problem, its causes, and its solution are clear. The only question left is, will enough people rise above their own interests and make a choice for individual autonomy, responsibility, and freedom, or will they confirm the criticisms of the enemies of democracy and vote for dependency, bankruptcy, and “democratic despotism”? Paul Ryan’s candidacy will give us the opportunity to keep that stark choice at the forefront of the coming election.
©2012 Bruce S. Thornton