The announcement that Mitt Romney has chosen Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate created a media storm in the United States, one that will rumble on from now until Election Day in November.
The battle lines are now drawn with the Republican ticket unequivocally to the far right, represented by two wealthy white men, one a Mormon, the other a devout Roman Catholic, both secure in their conservative ideology of free market capitalism, supply side economics and staunch fiscal conservatism.
The Paul Ryan budget is dominating the conversation -- passed in May by a compliant Tea Party-based Congress but voted down in the Senate, it is the rallying manifesto for the campaign and also the source of its potential downfall. It is a supreme irony that the Republicans today are trying to identify with Ronald Reagan, yet when he was president, he raised taxes, he is famous for saying "forget the deficit, its big enough to look after itself" and recently, his former director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockton, has called the Ryan budget a "fairy tale" and " an empty conservative sermon." In a New York Times op ed this week, Stockton said Ryan's plan is "devoid of credible maths or hard policy choices," harsh criticism more usually expected to come from Democrats.
The continuing creed that jobs will be created by the 400 wealthiest individuals if they are given even more money still underpins Republican thinking, even though it has failed to materialize in the past eight years of Bush tax cuts. The trickle down has not happened yet, and most economists agree that jobs will not be created until demand exists with the middle class having more money to spend. Paul Ryan's budget has been described by Forbes contributor, John Harvey, as "a mistake of historic proportions," based on "a fantasy world" where entrepreneurs would suddenly start hiring if the government would only stop over-taxing and over-regulating. The obsession with slashing the public deficit instead of investing in job creation is leading to a starved economy because of Congressional Republicans, notably Paul Ryan, and their intransigence. Similar austerity budgets to cut government spending are proving deeply unpopular in Europe as they reduce general revenues, making the predicament even worse. The Romney-Ryan budget would be disastrous for the U.S., and by extension for Europe and the rest of the global economy.
Europe should be alarmed at the thought of a Romney-Ryan future where the failed policies of the past are being promoted with a zealous disregard of history, conveniently forgetting that the huge deficit in the US was caused not by Obama but by Bush's tax cuts, Bush's two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Bush's expensive subsidies for Medicare pharmaceuticals to keep that industry happy.
No matter how the Republicans try to spin it and blame Obama, the 2008 Wall Street debacle was caused by deregulation of the finance industry -- and no matter what the Romney-Ryan revisionism professes, the recession was not caused by the sudden enactment of new regulatory legislation. On the contrary, regulation has never been so lax since the Glass Steagal Act was replaced in 1999 with the Financial Modernization (Gramm-Leach-Bliley) Act. The global credit crisis that resulted in 2008 led Congress to pass the Dodd Frank Act, a weaker version of Glass Steagal, and which Republicans are already trying to dismantle. No one trusts Wall Street or the financial industry any more, yet Mitt Romney was happy to fundraise and hobnob with bankers and financiers in London recently, including those associated with the Barclays Bank LIBOR rate-fixing scandal.
Now the Olympics are over, it is time the European media paid more attention to the possibility of a Romney-Ryan win as their policies will have a further severely dampening effect on the global economy. Instead of viewing the U.S. presidential campaign with amused disbelief, it is important to consider the mindsets of the two men who could be world leaders by January. Paul Ryan is no Sarah Palin, (someone said he is Palin with a PowerPoint) but he has a similar myopic view of the role of the U.S. in international affairs. He and Romney have little foreign policy experience and they do not see that the world is changing and that the United States is not the only great power. Ryan is a staunch upholder of American exceptionalism and believes that "America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen."
In his campaign speeches, Mitt Romney has several times sneered at European social welfare, seeming tone-deaf to the irony of his professed love of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights which put egalitarianism firmly to the front. But this is a country that renamed French fries "freedom fries" when France opposed going to war in Iraq in 2003, and scorns European culture and philosophy, conveniently forgetting how it underpinned the creation of the American nation. In his book, No Apology, Romney shows his disdain for and lack of understanding of Britain, reinforced by his foolish gaffes while in London recently. He writes, "England (sic) is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy."
A Pew Research survey in June showed that President Obama still enjoys a high level of confidence in Europe, despite international disappointment that he has been unable to match performance to rhetoric. The Romney-Ryan camp views his popularity as somehow un-American -- Romney saying that "This president takes his inspiration from the capitals of Europe; we look to the cities and the small towns of America." This insularity is reflected in the Ryan budget which would cut international aid spending by 10%, eliminating for example Obama's Feed the Future program to reduce world hunger. There is therefore a strong linkage between Ryan's conservative economic values and his approach to foreign policy -- if not isolationism, it is certainly a withdrawal from civil engagement with the world and a lack of understanding of America's place in the global landscape. Instead of understanding the interconnectedness of modern economies, Ryan shows an ominous insistence on increasing the military budget, already hugely out of proportion with risk and needs.
The country is polarized as never before with Republican support being 90% white, and only 4% Hispanic, 1% black and 4% another race. Romney and Ryan have shown little regard for ethnic or religious minorities in the country and have associated with the ideologies of some unsavory extremists such as Walid Phares, Lt Jerry Boykin and Rep Michelle Buchman. The so called swing voters in the middle are certainly losing women, seniors and minority constituents as the grim realities of the Ryan budget are being revealed and understood.
One perhaps could warm to the two personable candidates, Romney and Ryan, as they appear on television, with their easy practiced bonhomie, their sincere and boyish smiles -- but when it is fully understood that their loyalties lie only with the few wealthy funders who are pouring millions of dollars into their campaigns, and the rest is carefully planned spin and deception, then there is a sinking realization that this year, in this presidential campaign, democracy is truly up for sale.
Campaign finance reform has been a mockery, and it seems that most of the public can be fooled, by big money, most of the time. The trouble is, it is not just the people in the cities and small towns of Romney's America that will be worse off with a Republican win this November, Europe and the whole world will suffer for it too. It has already been proved that the bigger the mistake, the longer and harder it is to fix.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a fellow and member of the Board of Directors at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.