US elections: Romney brings Tea Party on board

By Barry Sheppard, in San Francisco — When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Romney introduced him “as the next President of the United States”. This was of course a slip of the tongue, which Romney corrected. But it was the kind of slip that Freud analysed, one pregnant with meaning.

The choice of Ryan meant that the far right of the Republican Party has taken over its presidential ticket. It is now the Tea Party that is in charge, at least through to the elections.

Romney has been a master of the vague formulation and flip-flopping on his positions. But now with Ryan dominating the ticket, that is no longer possible. Ryan has a record of bills he has championed as a congressman as well as votes that clearly delineate his extreme right positions as a leader of the Tea Party in the House of Representatives.

Ryan teamed up with fellow Tea Party Congressman Todd Akin, who believes that women who are raped cannot become pregnant, to sponsor harsh restrictions on the right of women to choose abortion. Ryan is on record opposed to the right to abortion even in cases of rape or incest or when pregnancy threatens a woman’s health.

Ryan’s position has been adopted in the Republican Party’s platform for the election, which calls for a constitutional amendment defining a zygote (a fertilised egg) as a person with full constitutional rights. Such an amendment would make any abortion and many forms of birth control murder.

Ryan wants to cut off any funding for Planned Parenthood because it counsels women on their right to choose abortion and especially because it has championed the right of women to contraception for almost a century.

On the extreme right of the Catholic Church, Ryan is opposed to all forms of birth control. This in face of polls that show some 90% of Catholic women in the US have used birth control at some point in their lives.

Ryan’s record on social issues was summed up by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, herself a practising Catholic, as a “fresh face on a Taliban creed — the ever more antediluvian, anti-women, anti-immigrant, anti-gay conservative core. Amiable in khakis and polo shirts, Ryan is the perfect modern leader to rally medieval Republicans who believe that Adam and Eve cavorted with dinosaurs.”

In addition to their war on women, Republicans are leading the charge in suppressing voting rights. In many states where they have control of government they have passed laws restricting voter registration, raising the bar on voters to prove they are citizens, and other measures to block many Blacks, Latinos, college students and the elderly from voting.

Cutback plans

Ryan is best known for his proposed budget for the federal government, which was passed in the House of Representatives, although it was stalled in the Senate. The Ryan budget, which is now the proposed Romney budget, was so extreme in its cuts on the social wage that even the reactionary council of US Catholic bishops (who love his stand against contraception and abortion in all cases) denounced it as an attack on the poor.

Ryan’s budget would not only preserve the Bush era cuts on taxes for the rich; it proposes even more cuts on tax rates for the 1% and corporations.

Ryan makes vague claims that he would make up the government revenue shortfall by “closing loopholes” in the tax code. But you can be sure that he doesn’t mean addressing the low rate on capital gains, which enables Romney to pay a 13% tax rate. Or all the tax evasions the rich (including Romney) use in parking their money in Switzerland or the Cayman Islands.

The “loopholes” Ryan is likely to close are things like deductions for home mortgage payments that mainly help workers. Many economists expect that the Ryan plan will raise taxes on workers.

On spending, Ryan would preserve the cuts to Medicare, the government insurance program for the elderly, already passed in the health care bill championed by Obama, to the tune of over $700 billion. Ryan would dump the rest of the bill.

On Medicaid, the government program to help the very poor, Ryan proposes huge cuts. He proposes similar harsh cuts in food stamps, which give some help to people who would otherwise suffer severe malnutrition, plus a grab bag of further cuts, such as reduced aid to college students.

Ryan proposes to privatise Medicare, turning it over to the insurance companies, with a “voucher” program that would supposedly help the elderly poor. In the wings is a renewal of Bush’s proposal to privatise Social Security.

The overwhelming question facing US workers is of course the new depression, which has dealt them great blows. Beginning with the collapse of the financial system that started in 2007 with the bursting of the housing bubble, and the subsequent Great Recession, we have entered a prolonged period of anaemic recovery and stagnation, which can turn downward again at any time.

Workers know that, however high the stock market soars and the incomes of the 1% grow, they are still in a recession. Romney blames Obama and is running on a platform of “anybody but Obama”. Obama claims that his policies have prevented the economy from getting even worse than it is.

I leave aside the basic agreement of both parties in support of US imperialist foreign policy. Except for some electioneering charges from both sides, there is no difference between them on this front.

Agreed policy

Both parties agree on the main policy being promoted by the 1% throughout the world, from Germany to Greece and to the US: to foist on the workers the pain of the new depression through unemployment and the lowering of wages, and to utilise it to attack the social wage.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs recently published a revealing article in the British Financial Times newspaper. Capitalist pundits can be more honest in such newspapers, which workers by and large don’t read.

Sachs is no leftist. His main claim to fame was as an adviser to Latin American governments in the 1980s, and then to Boris Yeltsen following the collapse of the Soviet Union, in implementing severe neoliberal policies. For example, in 1985 he drew up a plan he called “shock therapy” for the right-wing government of the time in Bolivia. He then was the architect of the dismantling of Soviet state enterprises and their plunder in the creation of “gangster capitalism”.

When Sachs uses the terms “government” and “state”, he is not referring to the most powerful state and armed forces in history, but to that aspect of government that administers the social wage. Sachs wrote:

“[Obama] has also [like Ryan] accepted a brutal shrinkage of government programmes in coming years. The similarities of the Obama budget and Mr. Ryan’s are striking.”

After citing detailed figures from Ryan’s plan and Obama’s budget, Sachs continued:

“In fact, Mr. Obama’s overall discretionary targets are essentially the same as Mr. Ryan’s. Whether Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney wins, the ‘non-security’ [non-military] discretionary budget — for education, job skills, infrastructure, science and technology, space, environmental protection, alternative energy and climate change adaptation — is on the chopping block.

“Mr. Obama’s budget would shrink non-security discretionary programmes from an already insufficient 3.1 percent of GDP in 2011 to 1.8 percent in 2020. That is the ‘liberal’ alternative [to Ryan].

“In bemoaning Mr. Obama’s budget, I do not mean to equate it with Mr. Ryan’s. Mr. Ryan’s budget is nothing short of heartless in the face of the dire crisis facing America’s poor. It is also reckless, guaranteed to leave millions of children without quality education and skills they will need as adults. Yet the sad truth is that the Democrats offer no progressive alternative. Both parties are accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state.”

What we have in this election is the Republicans leading the charge to the right. The Democrats can coast along in their wake but in the same direction. Obama can distance himself from the extremes of the Republican attacks on women and the rights of Blacks and other oppressed nationalities, and on the living standards of workers, without doing much if anything in their behalf.

Whether they win or lose, the Republicans have set the agenda. Whether he wins or loses, Obama is not the answer to the Republican attack. He “offers no progressive alternative”.

It’s “heads I win” for the 1% if Romney wins, and “tails you lose” for the 99% if Obama wins.

Direct Action — August 26, 2012