There's a telling battle scene in Braveheart, in which Edward Longshanks, the tyrannical English King, crushes the army of William Wallace, the Scottish freedom fighter played by Mel Gibson.
As the battle opens, Longshanks sends his infantry to attack Wallace's forces. Longshanks then calls for archers to fire upon raging battle. Longshanks' underling, shocked by the order, asks: "I beg your pardon, Sire, won't we hit our own troops?". Longshanks replies coldly: "Yes, but we'll hit theirs as well".
Thus, in one cinematic moment, is captured Paul "Longshanks" Ryan's approach to reforming government. He wants to cut it and kill it -- no matter who gets hit in the crossfire.
And make no mistake, in Ryan's crusade to protect unneeded tax cuts for the wealthy, Americans across all parts of our society will get hit.
Those under attack include seniors (hit hard by the near dismantlement of social security and medicare), young people (education, training, employment and social services cut 33% over the next decade), science and technology (cut 6%), and our infrastructure (slashed by 25%).
Taken together, Ryan's cuts represent a scorched-earthed campaign against working families. They betray our basic notion of fairness and America's traditional model of public-private partnership -- principles that were once a cornerstone of the Republican Party under Lincoln (who, even during the Civil War, built the Transcontinental Railroad), Teddy Roosevelt (who broke up the trusts to protect the common man), and Eisenhower (who built the Interstate Highway system).
Moreover, Ryan's cuts are a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to America competitiveness -- at a time when our main competitors, including China, are increasing their investments for the future.
Of course, Ryan obscures his real aim: weakening government to protect his own special interests. Like Longshanks, he uses subterfuge to advance his war plan.
In this, Ryan stands out from his Tea Party colleagues, who are nothing if not open about their goals.
Dana Milbank reported that last year as they prepared to veto the payroll tax extension, hardline members of the House GOP quoted Braveheart for inspiration in a closed-door session.
Of course, they viewed themselves in the role of William Wallace. And no wonder, the Tea Party views Longshanks as too soft. They prefer a quixotic struggle, no matter how delusional, over a winning strategy. (In this they are reminiscent of the real William Wallace -- and the real Mel Gibson).
Not Ryan. Like Mitt Romney, Ryan hides what he believes in for political expediency. That's why Ryan drowns his proposal in poll-tested clichés about protecting America and modernizing government -- even as his budget does neither.
Ryan claims he wants to keep America strong. And yes, he increases military spending. But he imposes draconian cuts on the State Department and USAID- the agencies designed to help us avoid wars. Of course, Longshanks himself wasn't a big believer in diplomacy either.
This is classic Ryan. He presents himself as brave, but is actually just cutting what his base dislikes and shrugging off real decisions about everything else. And he hasn't made a single significant cut to Republican priorities.
All you have to do his look at his faux crusade against waste, fraud, and abuse -- the last refuge of political scoundrels without real ideas -- and a concept, which in and of itself, is wasteful, fraudulent, and abusive.
Ryan is, of course, right that our debt needs to be reined in-- but the pain of cuts must be shared, fair, and balanced by increased revenues. And cuts must not kill the investments that keep America competitive and secure.
And obviously government must be vigilant against waste, fraud, and abuse. But the most egregious waste is that we don't have a public sector equipped to deal with 21st century challenges -- precisely because politicians like Ryan bog government down in complex and politically-driven budgeting and regulations processes.
This fall the Republicans are going to claim to be government reformers. They'll cite Mitt Romney's slash-and-burn business record -- effective enough for his bottom line but woefully inadequate to the challenges of governing, where you are judged against a "double bottom-line" concerned with larger societal imperatives. And they'll cite Ryan's budget -- a political document with no hopes of ever being implemented.
But the simple reality is that government reform can only be led by those who actually believe in the utility of an effective government.
All Ryan and Romney can offer is the Longshanks vision: kill it -- no matter who else gets killed in the crossfire.
Ari Ratner is a former Obama Administration political appointee at the State Department. He is a Principal at the Truman Project on National Security. Follow him on twitter: @amratner
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