As much as I’d love to revel in Ryan’s tax-evasion during last night’s Vice Presidential Debate, I have to—oh it hurts!—agree with him.
I’ve written in the past about why exactly I loathe Paul Ryan. And whether you think my reasons are fair, or my analysis accurate, there’s certainly no question about whether or not I ultimately like the guy. I don’t.
But despite shaking with nervous joy last night as Biden forcefully confronted the Ryan/Romney agenda, the Wisconsin Congressman had a point. It’s one that Romney has made as well, though less clearly, each time journalists on the campaign trail hound him for details about his economic plan to “get the country growing again.”
The point is: they are running to head the executive branch, not be legislators-in-chief.
Paul Ryan is—so much pain!—correct when he argues that its Congress’ job to hammer out the details. Congress is the first branch of government. It’s the one that’s most representative of the nation as a whole as well as each state and each individual.
This is in part why I was not only surprised but dismayed that Ryan decided to be Romney’s running mate. What does it say about are political system when one of its most powerful legislative voices decides they have a better chance of enacting their policies from the White House then from the Capitol?
Part of the reason why Presidential campaigns lack substance is that both parties know that a mix of low information voters and hundreds of millions in campaign marketing put anyone trying to talk about the “tough decisions” facing the country will be doomed.
The President can lobby for certain policies. And as the de facto head of his or her political party, is extremely important in making the case to the people for policy X over policy Y. But he or she is not the one who ultimately gets to decide what actually comes out of the legislative process. At the end of the day they can sign whatever bill comes their way, or veto it. That’s it.
This is why Obamacare and the stimulus were not only flawed upon passage, they weren’t even the President’s policies. This is why when judging a president’s performance we should look more at how they *execute* laws, and engage the world abroad, then how good they are at cajoling Congress into doing whatever they want.
Otherwise you have the problem, which Mark and many others have touched on before, where the President is treated like a Prime Minister, like a supreme legislator, even though the chains of accountability remain those of a presidential republican democracy. The calculus that gets a president elected is every different from the calculus that gets Congress men and women elected. This is why we so often have divided government. This is why every once in a while someone lauds the commander-in-chief for being an effective triangulator.
People’s expectations are not aligned with the realities of how politicians are elected, and how the system forces them to govern. Ergo continual cluster-f***.
Calling Ryan and Romney out for not giving particulars is a debate tactic and a campaign strategy. I don’t actually need to know any of the particulars because 1) if elected Romney and Ryan will have 535 members of Congress to deal with and 2) I already know what they actually want to do: cut taxes, broaden the base, remain revenue neutral, and cut the deficit by cutting spending.
Any liberal who pretends not to know what specifically the Ryan/Romney tax plan would be is being insincere. How could they know the specifics? They haven’t had to deal with Congress yet? Did Obama know the particulars of Obamacare before it was passed? Nope. And rather than have him and McCain square off four years ago on how they would remake the health care system, what we should have been asking was: what kinds of health care reform can you guarantee you’ll veto.
That might sound naïve. That’s because it is. What the country needs isn’t to go back to its “founding principles” but for the American people to figure out how the hell their system of government actually functions. I’m probably not the only person who doesn’t think that’s likely to ever happen. The alternative is to push government reform that would change the nature of Congress, the presidency, and elections in order to put them more in line with how voters actually treat each of those things. Ask around though and even people who support a more parliamentary form of government don’t see it happening, at least not in their life times (which is possibly good news since it inadvertently implies that WWIII won’t happen in the next half century).
I’m cynically elated that Biden tried to flush out the confusion and obfuscation in Ryan and Romney’s campaign rhetoric because it gets us a bit closer to the kinds of policies I favor. But the truth of the matter is that reckless standards like the one Biden tried to hold Ryan to will only continue to degrade the political system. And I actually think the country would be *better off* if more politicians made the argument that to wade into the details of their preferred economic agenda would be premature.