Fire and Ice: One Speech, Two Rebuttals, and a Report Card – Part 2

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson

Part 2: Ice

By tradition, the President’s loyal(?) opposition gets air time to disagree. Paul Ryan (R-WI1), who chairs the House budget committee, got the assignment, more likely because he is the only Republican who has come up with something that looks like a deficit-cutting plan, than by virtue of his committee role.

Last year the call went to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who blew away his presidential hopes in the first few minutes of his speech. Paul Ryan is no Bobby Jindal. And the word is that he has no interest in running for president.

I told you I was going to look for the holiness in Ryan, which was my way of keeping my heart and mind open to him. I did as I promised. And I found a man who, I think, believes in the rightness of what he says no less than Barack Obama does.

We’re in for a long slog.

Ryan was respectful, acknowledging early in his speech that the Obama administration inherited a sticky wicket.

Our debt is the product of acts by many presidents and many Congresses over many years. No one person or party is responsible for it.

There is no doubt the President came into office facing a severe fiscal and economic situation.

Ryan didn’t have as much time allotted to his speech as Obama did, so he wasted no time doing the old switcheroo.

Unfortunately, instead of restoring the fundamentals of economic growth, he engaged in a stimulus spending spree that not only failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs, but also plunged us even deeper into debt.

It didn’t take long to see that, despite the fact that Obama inherited a budget deficit of $1.2 trillion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, Ryan was actually going to blame everything on Obama. Ryan neglected to mention the $127 billion budget surplus that Clinton left to Obama’s predecessor.

Over the next several minutes, Ryan made clear what the Republicans think will get us out of our present financial mess: Roll back spending on things that don’t relate to war, nuclear weapons, or “homeland security” to the level they were when George Bush the Second left office; roll back the availability of health care to the way it was when Obama took office;  revert to what the Tea Party, primarily, puts forth as the legitimate role of government as set out in the Constitution, the way they read it; and elect a Republican president in 2012.

We believe government’s role is both vital and limited – to defend the nation from attack and provide for the common defense … to secure our borders… to protect innocent life… to uphold our laws and Constitutional rights … to ensure domestic tranquility and equal opportunity … and to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.

We believe that the government has an important role to create the conditions that promote entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and individual responsibility.

We believe, as our founders did, that “the pursuit of happiness” depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government.

I like the phrase “to help provide a safety net for those who cannot provide for themselves.” I wanted to ask, “Help who? The states that are facing bankruptcy because of cutbacks in Federal aid?”

I believe that Ryan believes in what he says. I also believe that if his party’s point of view prevails, people who work for their living and those who would if they could, but can’t either for health reasons or because there’s no work to be had, are in for a nightmare that will make the Great Depression look like a walk in the park.

The basic difference of opinion here is this: Does government get itself out of trouble by spending (the Republicans’ term – Democrats call it investing)? Is that how the economy gets fixed? Or would things get better by pulling in our horns, spending as little as possible, and letting big corporations take care of everything?

I never took a course in economics, and I’ve been trying to play catchup since just before the 2008 election, when the Bush people dropped the financial disaster bomb and said America would go down the toilet if $700 billion weren’t released to save Wall Street from drowning in a pool of toxic assets. Remember TARP? That was Bush, not Obama.

I can’t pretend to know the answer, but I know what my instinct says. It’s an instinct informed by having been ‘way closer to the Great Depression than any of the people talking about it these days. My parents, newly married, lost the $500 nest egg my mother’s Uncle Lou gave them when the economy crashed in 1929, and they didn’t get over it for nearly 20 years. And if Franklin Roosevelt – whose picture hung on the wall in our house where other families hung a crucifix – hadn’t spent all that money making work for people building things, America would never have climbed out of that hole.

And then there was Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, who spearheaded the construction of the Interstate Highway system, making jobs and spreading money around in the recession of the 1950s. He could have spent that money by giving it away to the richest in America. He didn’t.

[Scroll down for Part 3]

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