Fiscal cliff negotiations have begun in earnest. Each side has now made their opening gambits, moves typically designed to telegraph one’s perceived strength at the bargaining table. President Obama kicked off the exercise this past Friday in a highly choreographed fashion, and now Speaker John Boehner has parried back by announcing that Rep.will soon join the Republican effort, a bold choice that could either be a game changer or poison the proceedings right from the start.
We Americans expect action, not some drawn out public fight over an extreme conservative agenda or more “sour grapes” following the election. There will be many other “players” in these negotiations, but why did Boehner choose to make such a high-profile appointment at the outset? He is definitely the conductor of this Republican “band of musicians," but people in power rarely share the spotlight willingly with someone of lesser stature. Ryan and his staff have been close-lipped about his role, leading many to speculate that smoke signals may indicate a fire is brewing.
Being the wily old veteran that he is, Boehner could be making this move to ensure that his speakership will remain in tact. Why not put a youthful, idealistic “sacrificial lamb” out in front to take the proverbial slings and arrows that will surely come? If talks sour, then Boehner can come riding in on his white stallion to save the day. Blame for any tax increases can be pushed back to underlings, andmay forego mounting a primary challenge in 2014 to unseat the Speaker for his misdeeds.
On the face of it, however, choosing Ryan to focus on budget issues does have an obvious logic behind it. This “Golden Boy” of Republican budget rhetoric is just about the only one capable of explaining the draconian proposals of the GOP without being immediately pilloried in the town square. As Ron Bonjean, a GOP strategist, puts it, “Republicans want their best players on the field during the fiscal cliff conversation. If Paul Ryan decided not to participate, it would squander his political capital rather than enhance it.”
Inquiring minds, however, are not convinced. There is a psychological saying that portends, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Are there any similar scenarios in history that would provide insights on the current situation? One does not have to stretch very far in this search. As with most things Republican, always consult the “Reagan Playbook” for advice when interpreting the modern-day moves within the GOP. As much as we may crave innovative thinking from the Republican Right, their right brain is almost always mired in the past.
For those of us who experienced the Reagan Era, there is one individual who appears as a potential role model for the current milieu, namely David Stockman. He was the young “wunderkind” of his day. After serving in the House for two terms from Michigan, President Reagan tapped him to be his Director of the Office of Management and Budget. He needed someone at the forefront of his conservative thrust to justify his tax cuts for the wealthy and to dismantle government programs that sprang from decades of social progress for the masses.
Although only in his early 30s, a decade younger than Paul Ryan, Stockman developed a quick reputation for being a tough negotiator. It is uncertain if he was andevotee, but he was a zealot of “supply-side” economics, the term that eventually gave way to the phrase “trickle-down” in our daily political lexicon. His influence on the corporate scene was also unmistakable. CEO’s across the nation began promoting young “number-crunchers” to high-profile positions in the corporate hierarchy. Math “geeks” suddenly enjoyed a brief period of widespread acceptance, rather than ridicule from their lesser mortals.
Some believe, however, that youthful idealism can be a curse. Without a foundation of experience and the wisdom it imbues, a young “Icarus” can often fly too close to the sun, lose his wings, and plummet to an untimely downfall, a victim of his own hubris. Stockman, unfortunately, fell from grace after a crafty reporter for the “Atlantic Monthly” magazine printed an exclusive interview of his true sentiments.
Reagan’s tax cuts were described as a “Trojan Horse” to benefit the wealthy, and as for “trickle-down” theories embodied within the president’s budget plan, “None of us really understands what's going on with all these numbers.”
That last quote sounds like something Ryan used to describe the Mitt Romney tax-cut plan during his recent months on the campaign trail. There is no evidence that “trickle-down” economics has ever delivered on its smug promises. In the modern era, tax cuts for the wealthy have only encouraged more capital flight to emerging markets where growth and profit potential provide jobs in China and India, not here in America. Attempts to make the “math work” in highly publicized interviews have been unconvincing. Increasing domestic jobs is now “Job One”!
What will Ryan do in his new role? As a VP candidate, he had to bite his lip and support his elder statesman. Will his youthful idealism return? Ryan’s personal budget plan for America received endorsement from fellow Republicans, but it has never passed the rigors of an intense subcommittee debate. His ideas embrace a massive meltdown of government spending on all fronts, with the exception of military spending. These ideas were heartily rejected by the electorate on Election Day, but Ryan claims steadfastly that GOP control of the House confirms his principles. When does creative “gerrymandering” constitute true voter support? Rarely, if ever!
Ryan appears perched on a “tightrope” at the moment. Will he remain balanced, or will he fall to his doom over the fiscal cliff, so to speak? The late William F. Buckley, a staunch conservative in his day, once quipped, “Idealism is fine, but as it approaches reality, the costs become prohibitive.” Will Ryan bend under the pressure? Why is Boehner grinning? The drama continues. Lean Forward!