The choreography of the Washington tango – skip to the extremes during the primaries, tack to the centre once they’re locked up – used to be routine. Expectations that a different Mitt Romney might suddenly emerge in the general election were all the greater, seeing as he had previously skidded around so much. The son of a respected Republican moderate, and a governor in liberal Massachusetts who put Obamaesque healthcare in place, he only veered off to the right when the courting of militant Republican activists demanded it.
But a bad trip abroad has already scotched hopes of a tack to the centre on foreign policy, and now – with Paul Ryan’s nomination for the vice-presidency – there is scant hope of moderation on the economy either. Mr Romney’s own post-primaries words on the deficit have had a certain artful ambiguity. No one could accuse Mr Ryan – who greatly enthuses Rupert Murdoch – of that. As the chair of the House budget committee, he produced an answer to the (genuine) problems of rebalancing the books that was lunatic in its lopsidedness.
Instead of banking the future revenue that should flow automatically from the eventual recovery, as fiscal conservatives of Mr Romney’s father era would eagerly have done, the Ryan proposals envisaged holding the tax take down so that the need for spending cuts is redoubled. Even if cuts on the Ryan scale could be carried off without immediately killing the economy, they would very likely end in the deaths of many poor Americans. The US already has the highest infant mortality in the rich world, and the Ryan plan would further shred the medical safety net. It would trash American science, hurt veterans and even affect the Republicans’ cherished military.
Under the plan, the elderly’s popular Medicare entitlements would be replaced by subsidies for private insurance, shattering security and requiring the typical beneficiary to shell out thousands of extra dollars each year. Anticipating the outrage, the Romney campaign immediately claimed that the Ryan appointment did not equate to endorsement of every detail of the Ryan plan.
Be that as it may, as a result of his choice, Mr Romney must prove to America that he is bent on undoing not merely the Obama social reforms but also those of the Johnson and Roosevelt years. The foaming reactionary fringe has moved further to the right in the US; Mr Romney is gambling that the country as a whole is moving in the same direction.
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