Editor’s Note: Ilyse Hogue is co-director of Friends of Democracy, a super PAC aimed at electing candidates who champion campaign finance reform. She is the former director of political advocacy and communications for MoveOn.org and has been a senior strategist to Democratic and progressive groups, including Media Matters for America, Public Campaign and Rebuild the Dream. She is a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.
Ilyse Hogue: Mitt Romney has faced criticism recently on Bain tenure, tax returns, his tax plan
She says Paul Ryan pick no help and Romney already backing away from Ryan budget plan
She says Ryan plan would hurt middle class, cut Pell grants, move to privatize Social Security
Hogue: Ryan pick may have made Romney's trust deficit even worse
Elections are ultimately about trust. And trust may be the only kind of currency that Mitt Romney is running low on lately. After a brutal couple of months defending the outsourcing of American jobs by his private equity firm, Bain Capital, and his mysterious tax returns, Romney took another body blow when an independent report revealed that his tax plan would grant himself and his wealthy friends a big tax cut while raising taxes on 95% of Americans.
After his botched European tour failed to deflect attention from his troubles back home, on Saturday he played the one card he had left to change the subject: announcing Paul Ryan as his vice presidential pick. But instead of making Americans forget their concerns, the Ryan pick sends a clear signal that Romney intends to double down on his anti-middle-class economic policies.
Ryan, the fresh-faced congressman from Wisconsin, would certainly be voted prom king at Tea Party High. But the tea party fever of 2010 has given way to widespread concerns about both unemployment and political corruption, which frustrated voters view as an insurmountable impediment to putting middle-class families’ concerns above those of corporate lobbyists’. On those two counts, as Ryan becomes known outside of the Beltway elite, Romney may end up second-guessing his choice as much as John McCain did when Sarah Palin couldn’t name a newspaper.
In fact, it appears second thoughts are already creeping in. After initially lauding the Ryan budget of 2011, Romney now claims he doesn’t exactly support everything on Ryan’s radical wish list. No wonder: Upon closer examination, Ryan’s budget reads like a blueprint for dismantling the American middle class.
Had the Ryan budget passed, those few families who make more than $1 million a year would have saved an average of $300,000 annually. How to pay for this? Ryan agrees with Romney that tax hikes for the middle class are in order, but Ryan’s budget would eliminate programs that offer ordinary American families a leg up. Under the Ryan budget, in addition to getting rid of tax credits for kids and tuition costs, cuts to Pell grants would leave a million more students unable to afford a college education. At least Romney had a suggestion for them: Remember when he suggested that students ask their parents for a loan to get ahead, just like he did?
Ryan’s Social Security plan hands over Americans’ retirement funds to Wall Street, with its stellar track record of managing money. For two-thirds of our seniors, those Social Security checks represent most of their monthly income, and for half of those, it’s a full 90% of their income. Ryan’s plan to privatize this last line of defense for American elderly was so radical that even George W. Bush rejected it. Romney has been passively in favor of privatization, but with Ryan on the ticket, we can expect to see a renewed push to dismantle Social Security.
And what about jobs, the top concern for American voters of both parties? Romney’s jobs plan is the old Republican standby: giving millionaires like himself even more tax cuts and waiting for the jobs to trickle down to the rest of us. But Ryan’s plan suggests he would not wait to make the job situation worse. By laying off tens of thousands of police, nurses, medical researchers and construction engineers – each of whom then would spend less money in our small businesses – Ryan’s unyielding fixation on dismantling our government is projected to result in 4.1 million lost jobs in two years.
Numbers like that make policy wonks go crazy, but in the voting booth, most Americans will pull the lever based on a different measure: how much they trust a candidate’s integrity, and empathy. Romney’s integrity has taken a beating as voters are left to wonder what he’s hiding in the tax returns he refuses to release.
And every new gaffe that shows just how little he appreciates what Americans are going through leaves Americans feeling less empathy from Romney. Ryan’s aggressive embrace of self-serving politics only makes these problems worse. While Ryan likes to justify his draconian cuts by saying all Americans need to sacrifice, he protected $40 billion in tax breaks for oil companies – a move that stands to make his own family a hefty profit.
This is the kind of move that has led to a historic low approval rating for Congress while causing voters to elevate corruption to second highest on their list of concerns. But Ryan elevates selfishness to doctrine. His devotion to 20th-century novelist Ayn Rand, who considered Jesus evil for caring about the poor, is well-documented. Even the Catholic bishops, long the nemesis of the Obama administration, said that “Paul Ryan’s budget fails to meet (our) moral criteria.”
In picking Ryan, Romney may have hoped to deflect concern from jobs to Ryan’s hobby horse of the deficit. But, at first glance, it seems like he just made his own trust deficit worse.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ilyse Hogue.