OBAMA’S ATTACK MACHINE…LATEST TARGET IS PAUL RYAN…..KIM STRASSEL WSJ
OBAMA’S ATTACK MACHINE…
‘Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it,” wrote Saul Alinksy in his “Rules for Radicals.” The White House would appear to have a copy.
His agenda stymied and his approval numbers sinking, President Obama has realized this year’s midterm election is shaping up as a referendum on failed Democratic governance. The new White House plan? Change the discussion, talk about Republicans, and frighten the nation about GOP ideas.
This is the way to read Mr. Obama’s sudden re-embrace of his oppositionâ€”his unexpected appearance at the House Republican retreat, and his more recent invitation to Republicans to a “bipartisan” health-care summit. And it’s the way to understand the recent Democratic targeting, freezing, personalizing and polarizing of Rep. Paul Ryan.
The idea-driven Wisconsin Republican first released his “Roadmap for America’s Future” in 2008. The nation can argue about its particulars, but what is inarguable is that Mr. Ryan’s plan is a real attempt to solve America’s biggest problems, with bold tax, health and entitlement reforms to put the country back on the path to solvency.
At the time, Democrats could barely muster a yawn. So imagine the surprise when, after Mr. Ryan re-released his plan in late January, it became a sudden sensation. Two days later Mr. Obama used his visit to the Republican retreat to thrust it into the national spotlight. The cameras rolling, the president praised Mr. Ryan for putting forward a “serious proposal.” He in fact singled out the congressman at least three times. Having done his spotlight bit, Mr. Obama then left it to the rest of the Democratic Party to systematically distort and trash the road map.
Within two days of the retreat, Obama budget director Peter Orszag had begun deflecting questions about the White House’s ugly budget by hammering on Mr. Ryan’s plan, claiming it “shifted costs” to families. Congressional Democrats held a conference call with reporters devoted to road map trashing, howling that it showed that Republicans would privatize Social Security, voucherize Medicare, and give tax breaks to the wealthy. Speaker Nancy Pelosi lambasted the Ryan plan in a speech to the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats used it to turn the health discussion, claiming it was hypocritical of Republicans to hit Democrats for slashing Medicare when Mr. Ryan’s plan would also cut the program. They used it to stoke populist fears. California’s Loretta Sanchez claimed the road map would both “privatize” Social Security and leave it to the “whims of Wall Street.”
Connecticut’s John Larson (a member of the Democratic leadership) introduced a resolution to force Republicans to oppose Social Security “privatization” in a high-profile vote. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already announced ads targeting 12 House Republicans, “calling on them to come clean with seniors” whether they support “House Republicans’ extreme budget plan that privatizes Social Security and Medicare.” As hoped, the assault re-energized liberal bloggers and the base.
Better yet for Democrats, some Republicans are falling into the trap. As with its campaign last year to smear Republican Whip Eric Cantor, the White House’s attack on Mr. Ryan is designed to isolate and discredit one of the GOP’s brightest thinkers. So it only aids the White House when “anonymous” Republican membersâ€”annoyed that they must have this debateâ€”gripe to the press that Mr. Ryan doesn’t “speak” for them.
Mr. Ryan, by contrast, isn’t apologizing for offering ideas to the very president who keeps claiming Republicans are the party of “no” and who claims to want entitlement reform. A handful of House reformers are calling the Democrats’ ruseâ€”reminding voters that what makes this surreal is that the only choice right now is between bad Democratic ideas and worse ones.
These are the smart GOP members willing to do the hard work of explaining the difference between, say, Democratic legislation that would strip money from today’s Medicare beneficiaries and funnel it to a new, unsustainable, middle-class entitlement, and Mr. Ryan’s plan, which would preserve today’s program for older Americans while plowing money from reform back into long-term solvency. As cheap as the attack on Mr. Ryan is, they understand that this debate was always coming, and that what they say now matters to the GOP’s future ability to govern.
Should Republicans take back the House this year, or the White House in 2012, they will own giant deficits and runaway entitlements. Reality will force choices. They will either have to embrace politically tough ideas like those included in Mr. Ryan’s plan, or flail through, doing nothing or succumbing to bigger government.
The longer the GOP hides or runs from those reforms, the harder it will be to embrace them later. Instead of spending so much time telling the press that Mr. Ryan’s road map is not the “official” GOP plan, the party would be better off asking themselves why it isn’t. If Mr. Obama is so eager for a debate about who is more serious about the country’s future, they should give it to him.
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