As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney names Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate, we speak with two Wisconsinites about the seven-term congressman’s record and how his views are influenced by the controversial philosopher Ayn Rand. “This is not necessarily a foolish choice by Romney,” says John Nichols, political writer for The Nation magazine. “It is an extreme choice. And it does define the national Republican Party toward a place where the Wisconsin Republican Party is, which is very anti-labor, willing to make deep cuts in education, public services, and, frankly, very combative on issues like voter ID and a host of other things that really go to the core question of how successful and how functional our democracy will be.” Ryan is chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and architect of a controversial budget plan to cut federal spending by more than $5 trillion over the next 10 years. “Ryan gets a lot of mileage for understanding, so-called, the budget and economics,” says Matthew Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. “But if you look closely, he doesn’t really get it.” Democrats argue Ryan’s planned Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform would essentially dismantle key components of the social safety net. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with the latest news in the U.S. presidential race. On Saturday, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney announced Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan, now 42, was elected to the House of Representatives at 28. He’s a Republican representative. He’s also chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee. He spoke in Virginia right after his selection was made.
REP. PAUL RYAN: I’ve been asked by Governor Romney to serve the country that I love. Janesville, Wisconsin, is where I was born and raised, and I never really left it. It’s our home now. For the last 14 years, I have proudly represented Wisconsin in Congress. There—there I have focused on solving the problems that confront our country, turning ideas into action and action into solutions. I am committed in heart and mind to putting that experience to work in a Romney administration.
This is a crucial moment in the life of our nation, and it is absolutely vital that we select the right man to lead America back to prosperity and greatness. That man—that man is standing right next to me. His name is Mitt Romney, and he will be the next president of the United States of America.
My dad died when I was young. He was a good and decent man. There are a few things he would say that have just always stuck with me. He’d say, “Son, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” Well, regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Ryan was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, where he still lives with his wife and three children. He’s a practicing Catholic. As chair of the House Budget Committee, Ryan was the architect of a controversial budget plan to cut spending by over $5 trillion over the next 10 years. Democrats have argued his planned Medicare and Medicaid reform would essentially dismantle key components of the social safety net. Speaking in Mooresville, North Carolina, Sunday, Romney contrasted his team’s economic policy with that of the Obama administration.
MITT ROMNEY: There are some who are—who are fearful that if we stay on the track we’re on, we’re going to end up like Greece, and we’re going to have, like Europe has, the chronic high unemployment and the low wage growth and fiscal calamity right at the door. That’s not the path we’ll take us down. I see our president making us more and more like Europe. I don’t want to be like Europe. I want to be like America.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, reaction to Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket was mixed. President Obama won the state in 2008, but this year Romney hopes to win the state’s 10 electoral votes. This is Wisconsin resident Mark Saphos.
MARK SAPHOS: I think we need more fiscal responsibility in politics today, and I think Paul brings that to the table. I think that’s his greatest asset. Spending and spending and not having the money and printing more money to solve the world’s problems, I don’t think is the way to go. I think Paul is one of the few in politics today that’s willing to address that head on. So I think it’s a great choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Other residents expressed concerns about his fiscal policies. This is Wesley Enterline, also of Wisconsin.
WESLEY ENTERLINE: I personally don’t agree with the direction Paul Ryan wants to go with the financial state of affairs in the country. I don’t plan on voting for either of the major two parties. I really hold environmental concerns as my chief value, and I plan on voting for the Green Party and hope that other people consider the Green Party, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: Mitt Romney continued touring key states over the weekend in what some analysts say is a revitalized campaign with Ryan by his side.
Well, to talk more about the implications of his vice-presidential candidacy, we are joined by two Wisconsinites: in Madison, Matthew Rothschild is with us, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, and here in New York, John Nichols just flew in from Wisconsin, political writer for The Nation, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
Welcome you both to Democracy Now! John, let’s start with you. You heard the news on Saturday. Were you surprised?
JOHN NICHOLS: Actually heard the news late Friday night. And I had written some pieces last week about Paul Ryan, not anticipating a certainty of his selection, but it was clear he was moving up the list rapidly. I talked to a lot of Republicans. What they said was that last week was a crisis moment in the Romney campaign. He had—he and his aides had made statements and taken actions that caused many conservatives to be very, very upset. They knew they had to make a hard-right choice—
AMY GOODMAN: And those issues were, that they were most upset about?
JOHN NICHOLS: Number one, Andrea Saul, an aide to Mitt Romney, had said—had started talking up Romneycare, while on the right wing the conservative base of the party hates Obamacare, as they call it, and also Romneycare. That caused Ann Coulter to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t even bother with this year’s presidential race.” The right was very upset.
But there was a back story thing that was even bigger. Robert Zoellick, the former U.S. trade representative, head of the World Bank, was put in charge of Romney’s transition campaign. Many of the neocons just went wild. They were furious that—they thought Romney was selling them out. And so, the pressure from the Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and other publications, as well as a lot of politicos, really went high on Ryan. And I’m not sure that Ryan wasn’t—there’s no question he was always in the running, but there’s also no doubt that at a point where Mitt Romney was worried about maintaining his base, Paul Ryan became a much more attractive choice, because Ryan is immensely popular with the base.
AMY GOODMAN: When you, Matt Rothschild, heard the news, as you were there in Wisconsin—you have covered Ryan from the beginning at The Progressive magazine. Talk about who Paul Ryan is.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, Amy, I was up north fishing in northern Wisconsin, so it did kind of take me off my vacation. And I was surprised, just as John was, because my initial feeling was that Romney was going to go with Portman of Ohio or Pawlenty of Minnesota. Paul Ryan, though, is a better snake oil salesman of free market capitalism, unbridled capitalism, than either of those two. He also has better, I think, retail political skills. He’s a better person-to-person kind of guy, down to earth. People seem to like him—most people, anyway, in Janesville. At least he’s been winning re-election pretty easily up until now. And so, I think that’s another reason why Romney chose him.
I mean, here’s a guy—first of all, he started his career as a Capitol Hill staffer with Bob Kasten, a real right-wing banker from Wisconsin who beat a great candidate, Ed Garvey, here in a real sleazy campaign. And then Ryan went to work with Sam Brownback of Kansas, so it’s not like he’s been a Wisconsin guy through and through, because he went over to the Kansas side.
But he’s always been this kind of policy wonk. He considers himself a genius in economics, but he’s kind of the one-eyed man in the kingdom, because his theory of economics is really absurd. I mean, he blames FDR and FDR’s policies for making the Great Depression worse. Similarly, he blames Obama for making the economy worse in the first two years. I think any economist of any stature would say that FDR certainly helped get us out of the Great Depression by reducing unemployment from 25 percent to 10 percent and that Obama, though his economic revival in the stimulus package wasn’t nearly as big as it should have been, but certainly it created anywhere between one to two-and-a-half million jobs. Even John McCain’s old economist said that. And so, you know, Ryan gets a lot of mileage for understanding, so-called, the budget and economics, but if you look closely, he doesn’t really get it.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Ryan was heavily influenced by the controversial philosopher, writer, Ayn Rand, known for rejecting collectivism in favor of laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. As a congressman, Paul Ryan not only tried to get all the interns to read her writing, he also gave copies of her novel Atlas Shrugged to his staff as Christmas presents. I want to turn to a clip of Congressmember Ryan speaking about Rand’s influence on him.
REP. PAUL RYAN: The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here—make no mistake about it—is a fight of individualism versus collectivism. In almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill, whether it’s an amendment vote that I’ll take later on this afternoon or a big piece of policy we’re putting through our Ways and Means Committee, it is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict: individualism versus collectivism. And so, when you take a look at where we are today, some would say we’re on offense, some would say we’re on defense. I’d say it’s a little bit of both. And when you look at the 20th century experiment with collectivism that Ayn Rand, more than anybody else, did such a good job of articulating the pitfalls of statism and collectivism, you can’t find another thinker or writer who did a better job of describing and laying out the moral case for capitalism than Ayn Rand.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember, now vice-presidential nominee on the Republican ticket, Paul Ryan. John Nichols, talk about the significance, for people who’ve never heard of Ayn Rand, why what he is saying matters.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, first off, he knows how to pronounce her name. And most people mispronounce it “Ann Rand,” A-Y-N. It is in fact Ayn. And Paul Ryan is a deep, deep scholar of and reader of Ayn Rand. She is a—she was a Russian immigrant—family, supposedly dispossessed by the Russian revolution, came to the United States—and throughout her writing career was a militant opponent of what she called collectivism, but really what she meant was government, and beyond that, a critic even of helping your neighbor. She said that selfishness must be the central organizing precept of your life and that the most important thing was to take care of yourself, don’t worry about others.
Now, Paul Ryan started reading Ayn Rand as a very young man, has read all of her books. He has appeared at Ayn Rand celebrations and events. He cut a video in which he said that in these times—this was a video cut about two years ago—one of the most important things people can do is to read Ayn Rand. It’s—he said it was one of the best ways to respond to Obama’s election. So he’s been deeply into this writer.
Now, what’s fascinating is that about a couple months ago, when he was going to speak at a Catholic university, a number of Catholic scholars wrote a letter saying, “You know, we kind of have a problem with this, because Ayn Rand was an atheist who was very condemnatory of what we think of as Catholic social justice teaching and all that.” Well, Ryan immediately ran over to the National Review, did an interview and said, “Well, I’m not really a fan of Ayn Rand.” It was a bizarre thing, because he was distancing himself from a hero.
AMY GOODMAN: Think Progress writes, “Rand described altruism as 'evil,' condemned Christianity for advocating compassion for the poor, viewed the feminist movement as 'phony,' and called Arabs 'almost totally primitive savages.'”
JOHN NICHOLS: But there’s something more than that. All of that, she did not back Ronald Reagan in 1980 because he was anti-abortion, because she thinks—she thought abortion was a great idea—maybe not for the best of reasons. Now, the fascinating thing is that despite Paul Ryan’s wild attempts in recent months to very much distance himself from Ayn Rand, there was a quote in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel yesterday from his brother Tobin, who said, “Oh, Paul can quote every verse of Ayn Rand.” And so, I think it’s very important to understand that Paul Ryan—I don’t think he’s an atheist. I think Paul Ryan melds extreme right-wing Catholicism, particularly on social issues, with Ayn Rand’s philosophy as regards government and a very kind of selfish image of how we should relate to others.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion with John Nichols, in studio with us, longtime Wisconsinite—family goes back generations—and Matt Rothschild, who’s in the Madison, Wisconsin, studio, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue our coverage of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney selecting longtime Wisconsin Congressmember Paul Ryan as his running mate. On Sunday, President Obama responded to the announcement. Speaking at a fundraiser in Chicago, he welcomed Paul Ryan to the race, calling him the ideological leader of the Republican Party.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s an idea propagated by the other side that somehow we’re going to grow this economy from the top down and that if people at the top are doing really, really well, then everybody else is automatically going to benefit. Now, this kind of top-down economics is central to Governor Romney, and it is central to his running mate. Just yesterday morning, my opponent chose his running mate, the ideological leader of the Republicans in Congress, Mr. Paul Ryan. And I want to congratulate—
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: No, no, no, no. Look, I want to congratulate Congressman Ryan. I know him. I welcome him to the race. Congressman Ryan is a decent man. He is a family man. He is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney’s vision. But it’s a vision that I fundamentally disagree with.
AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama at a Chicago fundraiser. Our guests are Matt Rothschild, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street. And he wrote a biography of another vice-presidential candidate become vice president, and that was Cheney. It’s called Dick. Matt Rothschild, what President Obama was saying, that he is the chief ideologist of the Republican Party?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Well, I think that’s correct, and I don’t know why Obama needed to second the nomination of Paul Ryan there. Maybe he thinks it’s a big plus for his campaign. But, you know, Obama has been praising Ryan, in a way, for the last couple years. During budget negotiations, he praised him for his seriousness on his proposals on Medicare and Social Security and budget reform, even though he didn’t agree with him. But, you know, you’ve got to be careful what you ask for, because I think the glee that some people in the Democratic Party have about running against Romney-Ryan needs to be qualified, because it’s—it is possible that Ryan is going to help the ticket. And I think, as the ideologist of the Republican Party, this is a victory anyway for Wall Street. It’s a victory for the Republican Party’s right wing, because here you have a guy who’s out there, you know, peddling this stuff constantly about how great the free enterprise system is and how we need to cut government and how deficits are the worst thing in the world and we’ve got to focus on them as opposed to helping people. And so, you know, I think it’s quite possible that Ryan may help. He may help in Wisconsin, and he may help in some other states.
I think it’s a question as to whether he’s going to help in places like Florida, because of his assault on Medicare. And you and John were just talking about Ayn Rand. I mean, Ryan says that Medicare and Social Security are part of a collectivist system. I mean, this is really part of the whole Republican agenda now for the last 70 years to repeal the New Deal. And Ayn Rand and Ryan are just, you know, giving the ideological justification for that. But it’s a frontal assault, and I think the more he gets his ideas out, the more—unless Obama really takes him on head on—and he did a little bit in that clip, but sometimes he doesn’t—you know, this is not going to be good for the progressive agenda.
And what bothers me is that Obama has a tendency to want to play things toward the middle or meet people halfway. And, for instance, in the budget negotiations with Boehner a couple years ago or last year, he was open to a grand bargain. And even some of his staffers have said he’d be open to a grand bargain again. Well, yesterday, Ryan was talking on 60 Minutes about a compromise on issues like Medicare and Social Security. Is that really what we’re going to get to here? I should hope not.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, there’s another Randian who’s had tremendous influence on the U.S. economy?
JOHN NICHOLS: Alan Greenspan, former head of the Fed. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Who was close to her personally.
JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, yeah. There’s a picture of Ayn Rand and Greenspan in the Ford White House. She came to the White House with him back in the '70s, or at least to an appointment event of some kind. So, look, there's an influence here, and I think we should not underestimate it. But I have to also suggest that there’s a cynicism in Paul Ryan. I’ve known Paul for a long time, and he’s a really nice guy. He’s very easy to get along with, very easy to talk to. If he was sitting on this show, you might disagree, but you’d have a real dialogue, much more so than you could have with many conservative Republicans.
But the fact of the matter is, while he talks about really not liking government, really being opposed to government, the truth of the matter is, he voted for two unfunded wars—and put on a credit credit card, not paid for. He voted for the bank bailouts, for TARP, for the auto industry bailouts, for Medicare Part D, which was a very badly constructed initiative, very, very costly. So for all his talk about wanting to balance budgets, the fact of the matter is, what he seems to really want to do is empower Wall Street. He gets huge amounts of money from many of the same interests that we might talk about with the Fed and the banks and other folks. And it happen—
AMY GOODMAN: You could say that there was a conflict of interest here: Mitt Romney chooses someone, Paul Ryan, who puts forward a plan that would enormously personally benefit Mitt Romney personally.
JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, my gosh. You know, the thing is, people look at Ryan’s budget plan, and they say, “Well, it attacks Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security.” At least to some extent it does. It begins a deconstruction of them. But what it really does, fascinatingly enough, is return full-scale supply-side economics. Ryan’s plan doesn’t balance the budget for 28 years. Ryan’s plan really is all about massive tax cuts for very, very wealthy people, for multinational corporations, and the beginning of a redistribution of federal spending from funding programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security into Wall Street and the insurance companies. His notion of using vouchers to, you know, help people, quote-unquote, “buy their Medicare” or “buy their Medicaid,” what that’s going to do is make insurance companies a whole lot richer. So, the fact of the matter is, here’s a guy who gets immense amounts of money from Wall Street, the banks, the Koch brothers, who is proposing a budget under the guise—
AMY GOODMAN: Pentagon? His view on the Pentagon?
JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, military-industrial complex love him.
AMY GOODMAN: More than the Pentagon asks for?
JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. That’s what I’m saying. This is a guy who’s saying to America, “I want to balance your budget. I want to take care of your grandkids, make sure they don’t have debt.” In fact, what he really seems to want to do is make sure that the federal government keeps collecting taxes but shifts it over to very wealthy people and to Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Yet, Matt Rothschild, during the weekend, as they campaigned together and separately, an almost mantra, clearly a talking point, of the Republican candidates, of Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, was that President Obama would cut $700 billion from Medicare and that they would save Medicare. Matt?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Yeah, well, they’re—you know, they’re trying to cover their backsides here, because they know they are vulnerable on Medicare, because the Ryan plan would have seniors paying $6,000 more a year, $6,000 more a year for health insurance with that voucher plan. And, you know, there are not many seniors in this country who want to pay $6,000 more or who could afford paying $6,000 more.
AMY GOODMAN: But explain how what—explain how what Paul Ryan has put forward—and it is unusual that he has put forward a very clear budget, head of the House Budget Committee—what it means to talk about Medicare as vouchers, giving seniors the chance to choose.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: So, he would give—he would give people on Medicare, people who are over 65, a voucher to go into the private insurance market and, as John says, help the private insurance companies out by buying insurance there. But it would be a fixed amount at about $5,600. That’s how much they would get. But there’s no limit on the insurance premiums that the insurance companies can raise them to, so, you know, the sky is the limit. And as the insurance companies raise their rates, that voucher is going to be worth less and less over time. And so, elderly people are going to have to shell out more from their own pocket than they would be certainly under the traditional Medicare system that, you know, 90, 95 percent of seniors enjoy and appreciate and are in favor of.
AMY GOODMAN: Last fall at one of Ryan’s town hall meetings, he spoke about cutting Social Security and Medicare as a means of debt reduction. Let’s turn to a clip of a senior citizen who spoke out during the meeting. He was promptly escorted out of the room.
REP. PAUL RYAN: Most of our debt in the future comes from our entitlement programs—
SENIOR CITIZEN: Hey! Why [inaudible]—
REP. PAUL RYAN: —mainly Medicare and Medicaid. So—
SENIOR CITIZEN: I paid into that for 50 years, my unemployment and my Social Security and my Medicare. And now you’re gonna—
SECURITY GUARD: On the ground! On the ground!
REP. PAUL RYAN: I hope he’s taken his blood pressure medication.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Paul Ryan being questioned by a senior citizen. Then the senior citizen was escorted out. John Nichols?
JOHN NICHOLS: And that was at a town hall meeting. You know, the interesting thing is that Paul Ryan flew under radar in Wisconsin for a long time. His congressional district is small towns and small cities—Racine, Kenosha, Janesville being the largest. There aren’t any big TV stations there. And so, for a long time Paul Ryan was able to create this image at home as nice guy, always in the Fourth of July parade, pretty good constituent service. And a lot of people weren’t fully aware of what his agenda was. When they became aware, he started coming back for these town hall meetings, they were packed with angry, angry people. I was at one in Kenosha where I don’t think there was more than a handful of people out of the hundreds there who weren’t opposed to what he was proposing. And this is one of the complexities with Paul Ryan. A lot of the national folks say, “Well, he won in a Democratic-leaning district, or a district that voted for Obama.” But he won at a time when most people weren’t fully aware of exactly where he was going.
And you saw in that incident that joke about the older gentleman, saying, “I hope he’s taken his blood pressure medicine.” That older gentleman didn’t need blood pressure medicine. He was mad about a policy. There’s a similar scene from a parade last Labor Day in Janesville. Paul Ryan’s going down the street handing out candy. A guy runs up and says, “Look, I’m really concerned about the fact that our GM plant has closed, that our pen plant has closed. This town is de-industrializing. We’re losing jobs.” Ryan gave him a piece of candy, said, “Here, have some candy,” and walked away.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Ryan and where he comes from, Janesville, and his family, his rise to Congress.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, Paul Ryan lives on the same street where he grew up. And again, there will be this attempt to portray him as sort of a blue-collar guy from a working-class town. It happens to be the best street in town. He now lives in 5,400-square-foot mansion formerly owned by the head of the Parker Pen Company. Now, the interesting thing about that is that the mansion is still there. Paul Ryan owns it and lives in it. But the Parker Pen plant isn’t. It got shut. The General Motors plant, which at one time employed thousands and thousands of people, it was shut, as well.
And Janesville is a wonderful town, a good working-class Wisconsin town, where Russ Feingold was born and raised. In fact, Feingold and Ryan came up from the same neighborhoods, same schools—obviously different teachers. And the thing about Janesville is it has suffered dramatically from de-industrialization. It has been hard, hard hit by our trade policies. And yet, throughout his career, Paul Ryan has voted for free trade policies pretty much across the board and is, to my mind—and I say this as somebody who grew up just a few miles away from Janesville—really out of sync with what was best for that district. He is not a blue-collar Republican. He is not a Republican with deep roots in working-class communities. He’s a Republican who’s gotten a lot of money from Wall Street, used it to win a congressional seat, maintain that seat. Now he’s taking these policies national. And it will be disappointing to me if the national media goes down that line, that spin of portrayment as somehow a blue-collar or a working-class Republican.
AMY GOODMAN: Analysts suggest Paul Ryan’s budget would raise taxes on the middle class, cut them for millionaires. I want to turn to a clip of Paul Ryan speaking at a town hall meeting in which he’s booed for claiming he does tax the top. He then shifts gears and says small businesses create most jobs, so they shouldn’t be burdened by high taxes.
REP. PAUL RYAN: We do tax the top.
AUDIENCE: No! Boo!
REP. PAUL RYAN: Let’s remember—let’s remember—let’s remember—let’s remember, most of our jobs come from successful small businesses. Two-thirds of our jobs—you’ve got to remember, these businesses pay tax as individuals, so when you raise their tax rate to a 44.8 percent, which is what the president is proposing, I would fundamentally disagree. That is going to hurt job creation.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Paul Ryan at another town hall meeting. Matt Rothschild, if you could respond to that but also set him in the context of the different tendencies in Wisconsin, which is an historic place, the home of McCarthy and the home of La Follette, and explain who they are.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Sure. Well, I mean, on the economic question, I mean, here you have Paul Ryan with the traditional Republican message that if you cut taxes for the wealthy and cut taxes for business, that everything is going to be great. But what actually drives the economy is consumer demand, and we need to give people enough money in their pockets so they can go out and buy things. If they buy things, then employers can hire more people, and the economy will cook. But they have a completely reverse idea of how to get the economy going. And Paul Ryan is against the minimum wage, and he’s against, you know, government jobs programs and anything that would stimulate the economy from the federal level. So, I think he’s got that all wrong.
Yeah, you’re right, Amy. I mean, Wisconsin is this odd, kind of schizophrenic place. It was the home of Fighting Bob La Follette, the founder of The Progressive magazine and leader of the Progressive movement. And also, it’s also home of Joe McCarthy, the terrible red-baiting senator from Wisconsin in the 1950s. And so, you had that terrible split. And we saw that split last year and up to this year with the recall of Scott Walker, where the state is virtually 50-50 between people who identify with the Republicans and people who identify with progressives. And that’s a battle that’s not unique to Wisconsin. I think it’s all over the country, but it’s especially in focus here in Wisconsin, and you can feel the polarization almost every day.
AMY GOODMAN: And, John Nichols, the triumvirate now in Wisconsin, you have Reince Priebus, who is the head of the Republican National Committee, you have Governor Scott Walker, who won his recall—I was watching him yesterday on television saying that his major victory in the recall was a real sort of green light for Ryan to be chosen, because it shows the direction people want to go in this country. The three of them are very similar, even look alike.
JOHN NICHOLS: They do a little bit. There’s a different height, different heights. Ryan is quite tall and, frankly, very athletic, much more so than the governor or Reince Priebus—and frankly has better hair. But the funny thing is that Priebus is a constituent of Ryan’s. Priebus is from Kenosha. Scott Walker is from Wauwatosa, which is just on the edge of Ryan’s district. So they’re not just from—they’re not just from Wisconsin; they’re actually from a corner of Wisconsin.
And something that we’re talking about here, there’s a subtlety to this. One of the reasons they’ve all risen is because Wisconsin is such a divided state, because it is a real battleground. Sometimes our presidential race is being decided by about 10,000 votes, both in 2000 and 2004. Republicans in Wisconsin had to get good at retail politics. They had to learn how to go out and campaign and how to spin these economic messages in effective ways. And, you know, listen, one of the things—be cautious about Paul Ryan. We can talk about Ayn Rand. We can talk about the Medicare, Medicaid, some policies that are really deeply unsettling to people. But understand also, this guy is a retail politician. He is—he does know how to work a crowd, to give a speech, much better than Mitt Romney. So, while Romney went extreme ideologically, he also added somebody to his ticket who’s frankly a much better communicator and, coming out of that Wisconsin battleground, knows how to stir it up, how to fight in places that are not necessarily easy Republican turf.
So this is—this is not necessarily a foolish choice by Romney, although, again, it is an extreme choice. And it does define the national Republican Party toward a place where the Wisconsin Republican Party is, which is very anti-labor, willing to make deep cuts in education, public services, and, frankly, very combative on issues like voter ID and a host of other things that really go to the core question of how successful and how functional our democracy will be.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Rothschild, the issue of Social Security. I mean, Mitt Romney has been somewhat careful, never coming out with a plan, yet here you have Paul Ryan, who is a man with a plan, a very clear plan, and it has to do with Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Social Security, he’s taken on from the beginning. Can you explain Congressmember, now vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan’s plans for Social Security?
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Yeah. He wants to do two things. He wants to partially privatize Social Security, so people can, instead of investing in the Social Security system, which you do now automatically, could take a sum of those funds, invest in Wall Street. Again, this would be a huge gift to Wall Street. And secondly, he would lift the retirement age from 65 to 67. And so, you know, we’d be working longer and longer, and we’d have more of our savings at risk. The problem with investing in the stock market, if the market goes down, then you’re going to be out of luck. And so, what happened, you know, back in the New Deal, we had one out of three elderly people who were in poverty. And after the New Deal and the Great Society programs, that got under 10 percent. And so, do we really want to go back to where we had one out of three, one out of two elderly people who are in poverty? I don’t think that’s the system we want to get to. But that’s the system that Paul Ryan may drive us to.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, President Bush would not adopt Paul Ryan’s budget plan, his recommendations.
MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: Yeah, I mean, that gives you an indication of just how far right Paul Ryan is here. He’s to the right of both President Bushes. I think he’s to the right of Dick Cheney on some of these issues. And so, we have a guy who is just so far over to the edge that he is actually—he may hurt Romney’s chances, in some ways, because of that, but on the other hand, I think he’s going to help the Republican agenda, the Wall Street agenda, the primitive free market capitalist agenda, because he’s going to be out there every day now peddling this stuff. And unless Obama and unless Biden can really hammer that into the ground, we’re going to have to live with the consequences of that, whether Romney-Ryan win or not.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Matt Rothschild, for being with us, editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine, John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.
When we come back, we’ll be joined by a third Wisconsinite, who is with Planned Parenthood, Wisconsin’s pro-choice organization, which has clinics throughout the state, a bomb placed at one of those clinics last April. We’ll talk about Paul Ryan’s record on women’s reproductive rights. Stay with us.