Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's choice of Congressmen Paul Ryan as his running mate ten days ago seemed initially to promise America and the world an open debate over core issues facing the nation, with analysis of the economy and the role of government coming first and foremost. Ryan, after all, is responsible for the Republicans' budget plan, a document which «has become something of a Tea Party manifesto in the House of Representatives». (1) As Chairman of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives, Ryan is said to be one of the best informed and most outspoken politicians in the GOP as concerns economics and the budget. His presence on the ticket would ensure a substantive challenge to the Obama administration's economic policies and principles, and require the Democrats to sharpen their proposals and convince the country of their viability. Or so went the common wisdom, in any event.
As we shall explain below, however, just a week and a half after Ryan's ascendance to the GOP ticket, the prospect of any substantive challenge to President Obama already looks impossible. Further, the bankruptcy of the Republicans' campaign will have significant consequences on the conduct of the Democrats. The most interesting question surrounding this campaign, therefore is what sort of politics the American people will be able to create for themselves.
Mainstream media coverage has not alerted the public to the premature conclusion of the presidential campaign. While the major television networks and newspapers are willing to pester Romney and Ryan on some of their vulnerabilities, the degree of complicity they demonstrate with the Republican ticket is astonishing. As large corporations, the major television networks stand to benefit from a Republican administration, of course, so they are being careful not to expose all of the ticket's shortcomings. The immediate benefits to the media of a hotly contested campaign also determine the nature of its coverage. Direct advertising spending on this year's campaign could near $10 billion, an unprecedented pot of gold for the major networks, who will naturally work to keep the race looking as close as possible all the way to November. (2)
The major news networks' protection of Mitt Romney has been truly deplorable. For example, none of them was willing to advertise the discovery that Romney is an abortion profiteer, which would be a fatal transgression in the eyes of much of the conservative electorate. (3) Nor will the networks draw the obvious conclusion from Romney's refusal to release more than one opaque tax return—namely, that he almost surely accepted an amnesty agreement from the IRS for tax evasion, in return for coming at least partially clean about his exploitation of tax havens. (4) Nor will they mention investigative reporters' findings regarding the criminal sources of funds Romney tapped to establish Bain Capital, the private equity firm that has made him so colossally rich–about 40% of the money came from Salvadoran «death squad» lords. (5)
Meanwhile, mainstream press coverage of Ryan has been remarkably dishonest. Ryan is ritually characterized as a supporter of free markets, for instance, when in fact throughout his career he has studiously declined to oppose any of the US government's myriad market interventions transferring wealth upward. (6) Likewise, reporters habitually parrot Ryan's identification of himself as a deficit hawk, when in fact his budget plan would hand the wealthy and corporations so many tax reductions that it could not balance the federal budget for several decades in any plausible scenario. (7) Laughably, Ryan himself claims not to know when his plan would achieve a balanced budget, because 'We haven't run the numbers on it yet». (8) This drivel from the long-standing chair of the Budget Committee of the House of Representatives.
A Campaign with No Merits?
«…simultaneously ridiculous and heartless», «…the most fraudulent budget in American history»
-Paul Krugman, on Paul Ryan's budget plan (9).
It goes unspoken, of course, that the Republican party is waging a presidential campaign without any identifiable merits. This becomes clear on every occasion when either Romney or Ryan are asked to provide anything more than misleading platitudes about the mythical free market that Americans are so prone to believe in. Aware of his emptiness, Romney has gone to great lengths to avoid giving interviews or even allowing questioning when delivering speeches, to the point that Mother Jones editor David Corn identified him as the most secretive candidate in history, significantly more so than George W. Bush. Scrutiny from the press has intensified as the campaign nears its final months, naturally, to which the Republicans have made pitiful responses. First, immediately upon announcement of Congressman Ryan as Romney's running mate, the pair (and innumerable other GOP spokespeople) blanketed the airwaves with an enormous and transparent falsehood about President Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act («Obamacare»), to the effect that it withdraws $716 billion of funds earmarked for Medicare (federal health insurance for the elderly) over a period of years in order to subsidize health insurance for poorer Americans. In fact, Obamacare simply reduces payments to hospitals and healthcare providers by that $716 billion, without altering the delivery of services to seniors. It therefore imposes efficiencies in the system, exactly what Republicans always advocate. The GOP's misinformation campaign on this matter is all the more grotesque in light of the devastation Romney and Ryan plan to wreak on Medicare. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, they would saddle the average 65 year-old with two-thirds of their health care costs by 2030, a brutal gutting of the Medicare system. (10)
A Campaign with No Substance?
In view of the obvious danger that further scrutiny of Romney's and Ryan's policy proposals will strip away what little credibility they still have, the Republicans have now decided that their campaign should henceforth evade discussion of specifics on any policy proposal. An internal party memo that leaked late last week to Politico formalizes this posture, stating, among other things, that «…diving into details during a general-election race would be suicidal…» (11) The GOP will therefore present the nation with an utterly empty campaign, relying entirely on specious critiques of the Obama administration.
The Republicans' emptiness, in turn, will shear the contest of competitive features. The Obama campaign already enjoys a healthy lead in the polls, and with the Republicans so patently disinterested in doing anything to help the nation, as opposed to the upper reaches of the upper class, the Democrats can retain control of the White House without proposing genuine solutions to any of the key questions facing the country and the world. Instead of fighting to secure the allegiance of the population, they will simply pile up campaign contributions by guaranteeing monied interests that their interests will not be violated.
In effect, the message from the 2012 presidential election to the population is: tune out. Consequently, disenchantment with Washington will persist. But disengagement from politics may not. The impotence of the political system to curtail the excesses of inequality, environmental degradation, and other pathologies in the US version of capitalism has become clearer than ever over the last four years. Non-violent, direct action politics is likely to grow from the seed of last year's Occupy Wall Street movement. And the new front for direct action seems likely to be environmental policy, a theme we intend to explore soon in this forum. (12)
(1) Representative Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), on «The War Room with Jennifer Granholm», Current TV, August 17th, 2012.
(2) See, e.g., Cotton Delo, «Super PACs Could Drive Total 2012 Election Spending to $9.8B,» Ad Age, March 7th, 2012.
(3) David Corn, «Romney Invested in Medical-Waste Firm that Disposed of Aborted Fetuses, Government Documents Show,» Mother Jones, July 2nd, 2012.
(4) The only commentator openly raising this interpretation is MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell («The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell», on several occasion in the last week). The one annual return which Romney released, for 2010, conceals a great deal regarding his foreign (including tax haven) holdings. See Nicholas Shaxson, «Where the Money Lives», Vanity Fair, August 2012.
(5) Ryan Grim and Cole Stangler, «Blood Money: Romney Started Bain Capital with Money from Families Tied to Death Squads,» Huffington Post, August 8th, 2012.
(6) See, e.g., Dean Baker, «Will Media Find Their Way to Discover Just How Radical Paul Ryan is?,» Common Dreams, August 14th, 2012.
(7)An overview of media misrepresentations of Ryan is «'Willfully Gullible' Corporate Media Sing Paul Ryan's Praise,» Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, August 15th, 2012.
(8) Interview with Brit Hume of Fox News, August 15th, 2012; footage available at http://www.alternet.org/hot-news-views/we-havent-run-numbers-startling-paul-ryan-admission-getting-little-attention.
(9) Cited here: http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2012/08/ryans-budget-the-most-fraudulent-proposal-in-american-history.html
(10) Cited in Andrew Miga, «AdWatch: Obama defends Medicare policies in ad,» USAToday.com, August 17th, 2012.
(11) One discussion of this memo is «The Rachel Maddow Show», MSNBC, August 17th, 2012 (14:30 mark).
(12) A broad grass-roots coalition has taken shape to resist construction of the southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, for example. A good survey is Will Wooten, «Don't Mess with Texas' Tar Sands Blockade,» Waging Nonviolence, August 16th, 2012.