Before the 2012 presidential campaign got going in earnest, there was a boomlet in some circles for (of all people) loose-cannon entrepreneur Donald Trump, a strangely brighter-than-usual flash in the pan whose comb-over was ubiquitous on Fox News and conservative online sites for some weeks in the early going.
He faded, of course – there’s not much staying power in populism without a person of genuine substance behind it – but in trying to figure out just what was going on, it finally occurred to me why he was getting all the attention.
It’s not that he had any serious credibility as a leader, despite his wealth. He fully fit the definition of a celebrity as someone who is “famous for being famous.”
But he was doing something no national political figure was doing at the time: He was aggressively taking aim directly at President Obama’s policies, pointing out their flaws at a time when the president’s personal popularity was high and many potential critics feared being ostracized by the mainstream media for saying the leader they effectively worshipped was actually an unfolding disaster in office.
For the courage to point out the serious flaws in Obama’s stimulus and health care plans, not to mention the administration’s total cluelessness in conducting foreign policy, Trump showed he was more than a real estate mogul turned reality TV star.
So, when Mitt Romney decided not to take on Obama directly at the places where he was most vulnerable, including the lethal Benghazi fiasco, the equally lethal Fast and Furious Mexican “gun-walking” scandal, and the failure to keep Iran from progressing toward nuclear weapons and North Korea from developing long-range rockets for them, the contrast was clear.
The official Republican candidate failed to use the best means available to challenge Obama – and lost.
(Making me, by the way, a terrible prophet. I had written a Maine Wire column during the primaries saying Romney would be effective in the general election, assuming his political skills matched his business management expertise. Wrong, wrong, wrong.)
Now, I’m a conservative, not a libertarian, but unlike the Wall Street Journal, National Review and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), I was proud of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for standing up to the Obama administration on the use of domestic drones by means of his 13-hour old-fashioned filibuster last week — and I’m proud of the other senators (including Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and even Democrat Ron Wyden or Oregon) who supported him.
Sen. Paul wouldn’t be my choice for the best guy around to run national defense, as he seems to share his father’s isolationist tendencies. But for taking a fiscal chainsaw to government fat – and a rhetorical one to its fatheads – he’s moved to the head of the pack.
Polls this week even showed him ahead of other potential candidates for the nomination, although all that reflects is present coverage. It is definitely not a real harbinger of primary outcomes that are still four years away.
Though, if by some chance he ended up on the national ticket in 2016, I wouldn’t stay home in protest, even though there are other Republicans I’d rather see headlining the fight card.
One of those is Rep. Paul Ryan, a man Romney badly misused as his vice-presidential candidate and a fiscal surgeon some have criticized for being too willing to let federal spending rise rather than cut it back.
But if real cuts to bring the budget into balance right now aren’t going to happen no matter who pushes them, having someone pointing the way to balance income and outgo in an achievable period of time down the road shows that an alternative to Obama’s spend-happy approach exists.
As the Wall Street Journal described it, “As a guide to how Republicans would govern, the third iteration of the Ryan budget blueprint would increase annual spending by 3.4 percent over the next 10 years, down from the roughly 5 percent rate under the current Obama autopilot. Government would gradually fall to 19.1 percent of GDP by 2023 from 23.3 percent this year, and average 19.5 percent over the decade — a notch or two below historic postwar spending levels. This is not a return to the era of Calvin Coolidge.”
That amounts, Ryan says, to a “$5 trillion spending cut” (Washington-speak for “reduction in proposed spending”).
What’s most notable about the Ryan budget isn’t the fact it promotes economic growth with lower tax rates, cut from the current top 39.5 percent rate to 25 percent (offset with repealing some exemptions and deductions, a process wrongly called “closing loopholes,’ which they are not), or that it essentially puts off Social Security changes for a later date.
Nor is it news that he continues to propose overhauling the Medicare system for people now under age 55 by offering them an option 10 years down the road between traditional Medicare coverage and a “voucher support” subsidy that could be used for a variety of private insurance programs tailored to individual needs and choices.
Ryan would also insulate the Defense Department from most of the impact of the sequester, recognizing that the Obama administration has already trimmed it by hundreds of billions already.
But what gets right up in Obama’s face, in an even stronger and more direct way than either Trump’s commercials or Sen. Paul’s filibuster, is Ryan’s straightforward proposal to repeal Obamacare outright.
That is, ditch it, 100 percent. Unfriend it. Send it down the tubes. Give it the full swirly. In short, kill it dead.
Out of the ashes would arise enough funding to recast Medicaid as block grants to states that would result in better, more affordable care for more people.
Now, as some have pointed out, that’s not the same thing as a full-fledged Republican medical care plan. But one of those is not going to happen soon, which is just as true as the twin facts that Obamacare is not going to be repealed this year and that Ryan’s budget isn’t going to pass.
Nevertheless, Ryan and the party that let him put this plan forth in its name have drawn a line in the sand that says the budget can be balanced, and it can be balanced by dialing back spending and let economic growth, not tax hikes and unproductive “stimulus programs,” do the heavy lifting.
As Ryan noted on Fox’s Sean Hannity show Tuesday night, Obamacare still has two years to go before it is fully implemented. Over that time, as its higher costs and service reductions become fully apparent to all Americans, it will become easier to repeal and replace it with something that works.
Is he right? Well, he is about Obamacare’s extremely adverse impacts, more of which are revealed every day. Will it lead to such revulsion that it can be modified enough to make a difference, even if it can’t be entirely replaced? Who knows?
But if responsible politicians don’t try, nothing will change, so they might as well make the effort.
Meanwhile, for the first time in four years, Democrats are submitting their own budget. (President Obama’s version, due last Feb. 4, now is supposed to be available sometime in April.)
The Atlantic’s blog announced it under the headline, “Democrats Release Vague Budget in Hopes People Will Forget About Paul Ryan,” saying the document is “only intended to steal Ryan’s thunder” in the same news cycle.
So no one should be surprised that the Democrats’ three-page “conceptual” budget (really, just a sketchy outline mostly composed of charts compared to Ryan’s 91-page detailed effort) adds nearly $1 trillion in new taxes (and spends $100 billion on a new ‘stimulus” program) and is further financed with cuts in defense, health care, interest payments and other domestic spending. But it would still not balance the budget at any point in the future.
Americans may or may not see the contrast clearly now, but Republicans hope that when the full impact of Obamacare hits, things will be in much better focus for the average voter in 2014 and 2016.
We’ll see, won’t we?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org