Paul Ryan Is the new Dick Cheney

Paul Ryan is not the progeny of Ronald Reagan, as starry-eyed Republicans would have it. Yes, he has a winning smile and twinkling eyes. But he hasn’t run anything bigger than an Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

The closer parallel for Ryan is Dick Cheney, another Man With a Plan. George W. Bush needed a running mate who was older and wiser to fill in the blanks in his thinking. So he balanced his own vague compassionate conservatism with Cheney’s bloodless neoconservative certainty.

On Sept. 11, 2001, as hand-wringers in the West Wing were wondering what to do, Cheney pulled his plan right off the shelf. It wasn’t the right plan, but having something always feels so much better than having nothing. “Go to Baghdad, young man,” Cheney told the president, and that’s what Bush did. He deposed Saddam Hussein, occupied a country, turned a surplus into a deficit and left office with approval ratings in the 20s and 30s.

Now we have Ryan, the Wisconsin representative who is Mitt Romney’s running mate. He is another Man with a Plan. Like Cheney’s foreign-policy wish list, Ryan’s amalgam of neocon dreams doesn’t have all that much to do with the immediate economic crisis that Romney says his campaign is all about. His plan is about the federal budget, debt and deficit. It’s not about creating jobs…

With Ryan, all Romney had to do was add water, stir and — voila! — he had a product line his brand lacked. Sure, Romney had a 59-point plan he threw out during the primaries, but it was such a hodgepodge of bromides the candidate rarely mentioned it. It never became known as the Romney Plan.

But Ryan may well be to domestic policy what Cheney was to foreign policy: a fresh vessel for old ideas beloved by the archconservative wing of the party yet sadly irrelevant to the current situation or candidate. Privatize Social Security? Check. Cut every line item but defense? Natch. Shift everything to the states and let them kill it? Sure.

As for Medicare, Newt Gingrich, who wanted the program to wither on the vine, called Ryan’s scheme for it “right-wing social engineering.” With Ryan’s plan, the vine dies. He will end it, not mend it…

For the Republican Party, it has been a long march from Barry Goldwater to the present, with a few hiccups (Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush) along the way. Conservatives have achieved dominance of their party. The country now gets to decide if it wants a full dose of trickle-down economics, with the working and middle classes paying for tax cuts for the wealthy, who of course can be trusted to fix everything.

At least it won’t be a campaign about nothing. This will be one about something.

Oh, Margaret – I agree – but, I hope that the American people are paying attention for a change. Platitudes, lies and blather about tax cuts and balanced budgets have often been sufficient to dazzle a nation with the attention span of a cricket. The MTV generation is now regularly asked to vote along the lines of the latest Gap commercial, told that what they really need is their father’s Buick.

Discussions about voodoo economics don’t get any deeper than they need to – for an election. So, stats from Republican think tanks are as acceptable as the Congressional Budget Office.

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own – and I often share them. A former White House correspondent for TIME, she was also TIME’s first woman columnist. She appeared on CNN’s “Capital Gang” for 15 years – which some of you may remember was back when CNN really was a news channel.

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