New America Media, Commentary, Earl Ofari Hutchinson
In an apparent off the cuff remark, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan gushed that he thought it was a “cool thing” that an African-American was president. But Ryan’s rapture with President Obama didn’t last past the first sentence. In the next breath he quickly added that he didn’t like much else about Obama. The much else was how Obama has spent on health, education and job development programs that would help the poor and minorities. That spending has been fiscal heresy for Ryan.
His savage cost cutting plan is well-known. He’d cut tens of billions from Medicaid and Medicare, and more than a trillion from everything from food stamps to welfare over the next decade. The Ryan slash and burn plan mercifully hasn’t happened during his tenure as House Budget Committee Chair. But as Vice President Ryan, he would be in a commanding position to make his cost cutting plan a nightmare come true for the poor and minorities.
The key to that is winning the vice-presidency. In distant times past, the vice-presidency was little more than a ceremonial, title-leaden position that carried little authority, and almost no power to make, shape or change public policy. Presidential candidates picked vice-presidents mostly to shore up their perceived political or ideological weakness, be it sectionalism, inexperience, image, or on domestic or foreign policy expertise. The VP was there to balance a ticket, and help a presidential contender win, and nothing more. But that was in the distant past.
The vice presidential pick has morphed into a high stakes game in the evolution of presidential politics. The VP is now much more than just a standard dressing up of the presidential ticket. He or she must be able to actually help a presidential candidate win first and foremost, or at worse not help him lose. There were times in past elections when VPs have made a difference. Lyndon Johnson in 1960 is the textbook example of that. He brought legislative savvy, he was a Southern then still in good stead, and he could deliver two or three Deep South states. He did his job. Bush Sr. also helped Reagan in 1980. He brought experience, insider connections, and as a transplanted Southerner, the regional balance that Reagan needed. And he was moderate enough to give Reagan a little edge with moderate Republicans. But the vice-president has become much more than that.
A vice president is now directly involved in discussing, implementing and even helping to formulate domestic and foreign policy. Vice-Presidents chair presidential committees and commissions. They are consulted and make recommendations on major policy decisions and changes. They are often the hit men on controversial policy issues and during elections they are on the campaign trail to say what the president often can’t say. Clinton’s VP Al Gore and Bush’s VP Dick Cheney played the role of advisor and point man on key issues. Obama VP Joe Biden plays the same role. In any case, the VP is now often right in the center of presidential politics and the national political debate.
Ryan would be even more at the center of that debate and decision making. He was picked in large part not to balance the Romney ticket, but because of his budget hammering big stick. A Romney White House will not only listen to him, but rely heavily on him on policy decisions involving spending slashes, almost all of it involving crucial domestic programs.
This would come at the worst possible time for the poor and minorities. The poor are not only getting poorer, they are also more numerous than any time in the last half-century and have slipped even further behind in wealth and income disparities. Other reports repeatedly confirm that a disproportionate number of the poor are blacks and Hispanics. The single biggest reason for their plunge downward is the relentless pecking away at federal spending on enhancement programs in health care, education, job and skills training, and the massive cutbacks and downsizing in the public employment sector.
This has been coupled with a colossal leap in the fortunes of the rich and major corporations. Their wealth bounty has soared through a benign and porous tax and regulatory system that has given the taxpayer company store away to them. The Ryan plan would be a dream come true for them. It would shove out even more of the tax cut bounty to the wealthiest, and do absolutely nothing to insure that any of the tax cut giveaway go toward investment in new job creation. The cuts would leave the tattered safety net for the poor in even greater tatters. It doesn’t take a soothsayer to predict that the number of poor will skyrocket even more under the Ryan plan.
Ryan knows he’s in a commanding position. He told an interviewer during the Republican presidential candidate’s debates that all the Republican candidates believed his plan was the best plan for the country. Tea Party Express leader Amy Kremer was in delirium in stating that selecting Ryan “proved” Romney was committed to their draconian economic hatchet plan. Unfortunately for the poor, in a Romney White House VP Ryan could make that nightmare happen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.