Remember Sen. John Kerry's infamous quote from the 2004 campaign, "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it." Here's Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's vice-presidential choice, doing his best to outdo the failed Democratic presidential nominee.
"Madam Speaker, this bill offends my principles, but I'm gonna vote for this bill in order to preserve my principles." This Ryan flip-flop comes from his 2008 House floor speech in support of TARP, the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package.
Say again? Oh, you thought Ryan had a reputation as the philosophically principled budget-hawk. A Tea Party darling. A conservative golden boy. A Republican rising star. The party's moral compass. The Wall Street Journal editorial board believes he "represents the GOP's new generation of reformers."
"More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline," the paper wrote this week.
Ryan has earned that reputation because of strong principled speeches in defense of limited government. "Too much government inevitably leads to bad government," he passionately told the crowd at a town hall forum on ABC's This Week. "When government grows too much and extends beyond its limits, it usually does things poorly."
But, Ryan's voting record doesn't match his lofty conservative rhetoric. He's a big government hypocrite that has repeatedly turned his back on the principles of the Tea Party movement. In 2010, the Daily Caller's Matt Lewis wrote what could be Ryan's conservative obituary:
Though he talks like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, some of Ryan's most high-profile votes seem closer to Keynes than to Adam Smith. For example, in the span of about a year, Ryan committed fiscal conservative apostasy on three high-profile votes: The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP (whereby the government purchased assets and equity from financial institutions), the auto-bailout (which essentially implied he agrees car companies - especially the ones with an auto plant in his district--are too big to fail), and for a confiscatory tax on CEO bonuses (which essentially says the government has the right to take away private property--if it doesn't like you).
The Obama campaign's first impulse will be to paint Ryan as a budget hawk, the evil Medicare-cutting conservative. "Ryan will help rally the right for Romney, but he'll turn off Independents who will recoil from his regressive, social Darwinist extremism," tweeted former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. "Romney wants to take America back to before the New Deal. Paul Ryan wants to return to the 19th. Together they'll aim for the 1890s."
Reich's comments appear to be straight from the Democratic Party's talking points. "Ryan is best known for the extreme budget that bears his name -- one that would end Medicare as we know it while giving huge tax breaks to billionaires and corporations," cautioned US Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, in an email blast on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "A Romney-Ryan ticket is a frightening prospect for the middle class and anyone who might one day need Medicare or Social Security."
If the Obama campaign goes down this path, it will lose the opportunity to undermine Ryan in a far more damaging way-- from the right. Conservatives will rally behind Ryan if he's being attacked for being too conservative. Reich and Murray will help Romney rally the base. However, conservatives won't support the Romney-Ryan ticket if first they've been defined as big government hypocrites. Flip-floppers.
Understand this about limited government activists and Tea Party types. They despise big government Republicans like George W. Bush. Their blood boils at the thought of crony capitalism. But, more than anything else, they hate hypocrisy. Don't say one thing and do another.
In 2010, the Daily Caller's Jon Ward pressed Ryan to explain his TARP vote. Ryan said that he voted against his principles in order to save his principles.
I believe we were on the cusp of a deflationary spiral which would have created a Depression. I think that's probably pretty likely. If we would have allowed that to happen, I think we would have had a big government agenda sweeping through this country so fast that we wouldn't have recovered from it. So in order to prevent a Depression and a complete evisceration of the free market system we have, I think it was necessary. It wasn't a fun vote. You don't get to choose the kind of votes you want. But I just think as far as the long term objectives that I have -- which are restoring the principles of this country -- I think it was necessary to prevent those principles from being really kind of wiped out for a generation.
Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, who is well-respected by Tea Party groups for her commitment to limited government and free markets, has detailed Ryan's hypocrisy.
"In addition to voting for TARP, GOP Rep. Ryan -- billed as a Republican rising star- voted for the auto bailout and the AIG 90 percent confiscatory bonus tax," Malkin wrote. "Crikey. How many strikes do "Republican rising stars" get?"
Malkin has attacked Ryan for his "arbitrary and capricious commitment to fiscal conservatism." She says that he "can't be trusted to stand for what's right when the heat is on." Why? Because he was one of the "85 GOP bonus-tax boneheads" that supported a bonus tax on bank executives. Moreover, she urged conservatives to hold Ryan and his ilk accountable, "They shouldn't be allowed to forget it."
"I hope someone in Madison will ask why Tea Party activists should trust him not to crumble the next time the big government juggernaut yells 'emergency!' Malkin posted on her blog in 2009. "Did they fall for the Chicken Little scenarios plied by Paulson et al.? Ryan did."
Malkin also forewarned against banks returning the favor with campaign contributions to friendly members. "Keep an eye out for who puts what in their coffers," she wrote. According to campaign finance data published by Open Secrets, Ryan accepted campaign contributions from the big financial companies that he voted to bailout. $12,150 from Wells Fargo, $10,000 from Goldman Sachs and $9,700 from Bank of America-- just in the 2011-12 cycle.
The bailout vote put Ryan on the same side as liberal Rep. Barney Frank, who reminded Ryan of that fact in the ABC town hall debate.
RYAN: With those strings? No, I would have put different strings on it. I would have said stick to the financial services sector, don't go into these other areas that you just mentioned. That was the whole part of TARP. And it was all taking toxic assets, not to buy stock in companies.
FRANK: We did vote for the bill. The bill you described is the one we voted for. The Bush administration decided it was so important to get the buy-in from the financial industry, that they ignored significant pieces.
"Ryan said that his vote was just a mistake... that he had just gotten confused on that vote and thought it was the next amendment in line," Hillyer reported. This sloppy mistake was made by the budget whiz kid. In another post for the American Spectator, Hillyer dubbed the GOP ticket, "Ryan and Romney: TARP Twins."
But, Ryan's worst explanation of his crony capitalism votes might be his response to the multi-billion dollar auto bailout. Here's the exchange between Ryan and ABC's News Christiane Amanpour.
AMANPOUR: Congress Ryan, you actually voted for the Wall Street bailout, and indeed the auto bailout as well.
RYAN: Right. The auto bailout in order to prevent TARP from going to the auto companies, because we already put $25 billion aside in an energy bill, which I disapproved of, to go to auto companies.
Maybe Ryan was having an off day? Clearly, he misspoke, a common trademark of the current vice-president. Here's what he told the Daily Caller.
Auto. Really clear. The president's chief of staff [Josh Bolten] made it extremely clear to me before the vote, which is either the auto companies get the money that was put in the Energy Department for them already -- a bill that I voted against because I didn't want to give them that money, which was only within the $25 billion, money that was already expended but not obligated -- or the president was going to give them TARP, with no limit. That's what they told me. That's what the president's chief of staff explained to me. I said, 'Well, I don't want them to get TARP. We want to keep TARP on a [inaudible]. We don't want to expand it. So give them that Energy Department money that at least puts them out of TARP, and is limited.' Well, where are we now? What I feared would happen did happen. The bill failed, and now they've got $87 billion from TARP, money we're not going to get back. And now TARP, as a precedent established by the Bush administration, whereby the Obama administration now has turned this thing into its latest slush fund. And so I voted for that to prevent precisely what has happened, which I feared would happen.
Did you get that last part? He "voted for that to prevent precisely what has happened, which I feared would happen." Huh? This is the articulate advocate for free markets?
Ryan the conservative hero: "Look at our economy, look at our debt. Crony capitalism where government is picking winners and losers. Where you have big government and big business exchanging favors with one another while the entrepreneur and the small-business person is left struggling to survive."
Ryan, the TARP defender, "We added 700 pages of taxpayer protection to that bill." Right, conservatives love more federal rules and regulations. "We worked with our colleagues on the other side to make this bill a better bill." Tea Party groups hear cooperation as a code word for capitulation.
"Just maybe this will work."
Are we talking about TARP or the Romney-Ryan ticket?
Follow John Hrabe on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnhrabe