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    Why Paul Ryan Frightens Me


    Every Tuesday evening I co-host an internet radio show, The Middle Ground, with filmmaker and Coffee Party USA co-founder Eric Byler.  Eric lives left of center and, as you know, I live to the right.  Our show emerges as an interesting olio, one that aims to find the place where civil conversation exists and commonalities can be found.

    Eric’s habit is to start the show by throwing me a generally unplanned question about something going on in the news.  He always asks these questions with curiosity rather than confrontation; he sincerely likes to hear the view from the right, and I enjoy coming up with responses I believe will interest a thoughtful audience.  (I admit, though, that it occasionally feels a bit like I’m in a science experiment designed to uncover the behaviors of a heretofore unknown species: “Look! It’s a Moderate Republican! And in its native habitat, no less!  Let’s see what it will do!”)

    This past week I expected a question about Paul Ryan—the Wisconsin representative had just been selected as Mitt’s uber-Veep running mate. I was ready to offer an opinion, but I wasn’t quite ready for Eric’s actual question, which was this: ”Who would you have chosen?”

    Caught off guard, I chuckled, pondered, grunted, sighed and laughed—anything to avoid dead air—all while scrambling for a decent answer.  Either of the other two on Romney’s supposed short list (Portman or Pawlenty) would have been preferable to me, as would someone like Chris Christie of New Jersey.  I thought of Olympia Snowe, but both her recent decision to resign from the Senate and the relatively low political return from choosing a Mainer quickly eliminated her.  My own personal, totally off-the-reservation selection would have been Christie Todd Whitman, the former NJ governor and EPA head, but she, of course, has been off too many radar screens for too many years.

    All of this whipped through my head with reasonable speed (which some may see as a sign of intelligence and others… not). And then the answer came to me.

    “The first thing I would have done,” I said to Eric and our audience, “is pick a Republican.”

    I hadn’t to that point articulated my beliefs so succinctly.  I have argued (often vociferously), that the Tea Party consists not of Republicans but of something new and different (and frightening) that threatens daily to complete the hijacking of the GOP. Until recently, though, such individuals were wrapped up in the stereotypes provided by Michele Bachmann, Christine O’Donnell, Rick Perry, Sharron Angle and a host of other, less national names.  These are people who suffer from their exposure much like an ant burning under a magnifying glass held by a five-year old boy. They rapidly desiccate into meaninglessness.

    Ryan, comparatively, seems sane.  I’ve even suggested to others that he possesses a certain bravery that’s rare in today’s political climate. You may love or loathe his approach to entitlement programs, but his willingness to touch the political third rail has started serious conversations about serious issues. He’s ideologically consistent, Tea Party-wise, and I doubt anyone wonders at what he’s about or what they’ll be getting if the R-and-R ticket wins in November.

    But he’s not a Republican. He’s Tea Party. Republicans—true, historically accurate Republicans—are skilled at political compromise and forward movement, skills the Tea Party disdains.

    It’s quite true that such movement is often slow and filled with questions about the effects of change on tradition and value (along with a sometimes mythological reverence for the past), but change—progress, in fact—has found embrace (though sometimes reluctantly) in Republican arms.

    Lest you roll your eyes, let me point out that examples of Republican-led progress are all around you. Eisenhower changed (literally) the landscape of America, arguably making possible the emergence of suburbs and exurbs. Nixon forged a foreign policy that changed international relations forever, and Ford attempted a social experiment aimed at impacting a free market he felt had led to a frenzy of inflation.

    These (and other) moderate conservative Republicans were interested in the future of America, not just the past, and were willing to reach across the aisle regularly in order to try and make things better, to change, to move (however slowly) forward. But not so with the Tea Party, which seems interested neither in the future nor in the compromise required to get there.

    Writing in 2007, conservative author George W. Carey said that “The Republican Party…has changed its spots…. Moreover, along with the transformation of the Republican Party, we have witnessed a corresponding transformation of the popularly accepted understanding of conservatism.”  Carey’s prescience is clear five years later. The GOP has not merely changed its spots, but has suffered a viral mutation from within its own core, and struggles now against something different, something frightening. This new core harbors no willingness to compromise and glances not at the future. It blindly embraces not progress, but regress, and it does so in absolutist terms. It is this emerging core—embodied so fully in Paul Ryan—that I find disturbing.

    When members of a political party argue from an absolutist ideology, they fundamentally disrespect the maelstrom of thoughts, feelings, emotions, beliefs, and concerns of the American people.  That hardline approach, that unwillingness to hear anything that doesn’t come from one’s own mind, is what should ultimately concern all of us.  It’s not Ryan’s ideas: ideas are the realms from which conversations emerge. It is the inflexibility of those ideas, the absolutist—almost tyrannically slavish--notion that the ideas are more important than the people on whom they have an impact….

    And that’s frightening.


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    • Response
      Response: Scary VP
      Seriously, was it Ryan's good looks and P90X-inspired abs? WHY YOU VOTE FOR DAT?

    Reader Comments (10)

    Hallelujah! I'm an unabashed liberal whose grandfather was an unabashed Republican and it's so heartening to hear that what I consider conservatives in the best sense of that word are still out there. We've always needed each other to keep each other honest. It looks pretty discouraging to me right now, but may your tribe increase.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterShelley Robinson

    I'm one of those looking for a moderate Republican - a species I believed to be extinct. Good for you.

    I do need to point out one thing of import to you, however: Paul Ryan has not been consistent at all about his political beliefs, nor has he stood on any kind of principles with regard to same. I can provide several examples: 1) he voted against the stimulus - and yet was in line with his hand out for stimulus money. When asked about this by an interviewer, he lied and said he hadn't asked for stim money - yet there were 4 letters with his signature on them, which he declared were written by staffers. 2) He has railed about government spending, but he voted along with all the other Republicans rubber-stamping Bush's war of choice, Bush's tax cuts and the Medicare D - all of which blew up our debt into the monstrous thing it is today. 3) He wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program - and then he trots out his mother to lie to seniors and tell them that nothing will change (maybe for them - but their children and grandchildren are gonna get screwed).

    Please take a look at the difference between what "Republicans" say - and what they do. The two are not even close.

    But, hey, welcome to the light. We need more like you.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKate

    WE are here !, We ARE here !, We are HERE ! ( with credit to Dr, Suess ;)
    I am also a moderate Republican , raised in the first commentors grandfathers tradition. I am fiscally conservative and socially moderate. I have been having this very conversation for years with as many people as possible from all over the political spectrum. I defiantly declare my party affliation and refuse to change to Independent and be driven from the party I joined 30 years ago. I think the time has come for the remainder of the Republican party to stand up and philosophically claim what we have allowed the TP to subsume. Almost every person I talk to in person with is within compromises range of my political beliefs. Fox viewers, liberals, folks from across the spectrum. The majority of the people of this country are willing to pay taxes as long as thier money is not wasted, Trust but Verify. They are willing to pay taxes to support others who TRULY need their help. They are willing to work hard but not be taken advantage of - The Golden Rule. This really says all that needs to be said. The technical details of how you operationalize it can be worked out. We can rebuild our country from here. I know we can. We need to return to Common Sense and the Common Good. I would love to see the Republican moderates be those Leaders. It's work I know I am doing and clearly you are too. I would love a national candidate to be willing to stand up with us.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Warren

    You underscore one of the weird things about "political ideology".

    It is VERY easy to manipulate political "memes" in large groups of people.

    Weirder yet... regards the Tea Party... neither Paul Ryan or the "Tea Party" is actually The Tea Party.

    The Tea Party was a vocal highly motivated group of outraged Americans, who took a stand against bailing out the Bankster Organized Crime faction of our financial system (bailouts which Paul Ryan supported it seems.)

    Within 45 days of the genesis of the Original Tea Party... the neo-cons and Republican Party propaganda machine was in full swing to co-opt and mutate that focused group of Americans yelling "enough!" into some weird bastard step child of the Republican Party with their OWN agenda...

    The toughest thing about personal political beliefs... no matter which way they lean... is how susceptible they are to "meme/mind" control and propaganda... especially in a country where so many smart and often well educated people are complete slaves, so far as their perceptive malleability... and they have no idea they are being manipulated.

    I wish I could be more hopeful about the economic and political future of the U.S.

    I'm afraid we are seeing the end of Empire with all its corruption and internalized rot and stench... and it is going to get FAR worse, before it gets better.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDJ Setay

    The sentiment of working together and compromise is nice. I think we move forward when we compromise. Eisenhower would be considered a socialist in today's climate by the republican party, this is truly a shame. I do not see how any moderate or any center right person can vote for a republican today, as the party has moved so far from the mainstream and has become so rigid (you can never consider a tax increase, government services are all bad, etc). I am a liberal, that is my bias, but I think that compromise and consideration of all reasonable views is important. I think we would have had a much better healthcare plan if there was room for real discussion and compromise, I think we would not be coming to this "fiscal cliff" if there was room for real discussion and compromise. I blame the far right for this, and now they are on the verge of the presidency and controlling both houses of congress. Tell me why this should not scare me. I want reassurance from those on the right, that my fears of further income inequality and less opportunity for working people, less choice for women over their own bodies, on so on is just paranoia and has no basis in reality.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Kashdan

    So the Republican party has ceased to exist as a political philosophy. So the only choice a rational voter has left is to vote for Democrats for all national and state offices. Thanks for clearing that up.

    August 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJ N Wesner

    Excellent article! The more I research the Ryan pick, the more confounded I am by it and by Ryan's political actions. He seems to be a kind of teflon wunderkind, not really able to effect much, but respected widely.

    I did enjoy very much Bill Maher's comparison of him to Sarah Palin, and I'm starting to feel this is a bit of a Sarah Palin 2.0 pick. Also, economist Paul Krugman had a pretty harsh rundown of his Economic plan in the NYT today that was very good.

    August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTony M

    "Teflon" is a good word, Tony. I don't buy the Palin comparison, though. Ryan has read Atlas Shrugged, and I'm not sure that Palin could even spell it!

    August 20, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    I completely agree with you about Christie Todd Whitman! She is a sensible, smart politician. I heard her on the radio many years ago and was so impressed. If John McCain had chosen her as a running mate, some people may have been more inclined to vote for him.

    August 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKarla

    Couldn't agree more, Karla. I often wonder why she was overlooked--at least back when being a moderate wasn't a sin....

    August 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

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