fresh voices from the front lines of change







With Mitt Romney once again caught trying to defend his low tax rate, the booing of Paul Ryan at the AARP convention has become a bit overlooked. But it raises a two big questions:

1. Who thought it was a good idea to send Paul Ryan to the AARP convention?

2. Who thought it was a good idea to send Paul Ryan to the AARP convention armed with little else but rehashed conservative misinformation?

If you recall, conservatives hailed the choice of Paul Ryan as Romney’s vice-presidential nominee because he supposedly had some unique powers to sell conservative ideas beyond the Republican base. For example, Fox News’ Bill Kristol stressed Ryan’s ability to win the votes of independents and Obama voters in his congressional district. Rush Limbaugh said attacks on Ryan’s right-wing ideas wouldn’t work because Ryan is “our last Boy Scout” and “you need the right guy to be able to explain it. Ryan is the guy.”

As you can see, the Romney campaign and the Republican Party actually believed such nonsense.

They actually thought Ryan could go the AARP convention — a crowd deeply knowledgeable about how Medicare and Social Security works, and about how conservatives have been trying to destroy those government programs for decades. They thought Ryan could peddle the usual debunked junk and get away with it.

Ryan had no special arguments or turns of phrase. He offered little beyond the window dressing of his mother to assert that — this time — conservatives really really do care about protecting Medicare and Social Security.

He just spouted what gets spouted on conservative talk radio and Fox News. He even deigned to suggest he knew more about Medicare and Social Security than his audience, saying shortly after being booed, with a touch of condescension: “You may not have heard this side of the story.”

You might think the AARP convention would be a bucket of cold water of reality. The cocoon of Ryan’s congressional district — where his family name goes back decades — says nothing about his ability to market conservative ideas nationally. The fact that his nice guy charm wins over certain Washington elites means nothing about his ability to forge bipartisan coalitions on his terms.

And yet, after the AARP gambit completely backfires, the response from conservative movement leaders to Romney is unbelievably: you’re not using Ryan enough! Unleash The Ryan!

That is some deep deep deeeeep delusion going on in the Republican Party and conservative movement.

They are trapped in a closed loop.

They resist any challenge to their ideas, even when they are proven policy or political failures. (Case in point: they are embracing the Ryan brand after his radical cost them a Republican House seat in a 2011 special election.)

More fundamentally, conservatives have failed to come to terms with their ideology’s failure in the Bush presidency, or recognize that they need to do so to regain credibility with the public.

They don’t seem to realize they can’t believably reassert, yet again, that more tax cuts for the wealthy “job creators” will magically create more jobs so soon after the failure of the Bush tax cuts. Or that they can insist they are not ending Medicare as we know it so soon after they spectacularly failed to enact Bush’s dream to end Social Security as we know it.

Their delusion is America’s gain. Being trapped in a closed loop where bad ideas don’t get challenged means more crude lying and less finely sanitized poll-tested language. In turn, the voters are getting a very stark choice between two competing world views.

If conservatism loses once again in November, there shall be no believable pouting that conservative ideas don’t deserve the blame. At that point, conservatives can either choose to break out of their suffocating closed loop and make some changes, or get used to another decade in the political wilderness.

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