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Mark Karlin: Ryan pick shows Romney is already fading as a candidate

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

In the year 2000, George Bush sat down with his advisers and decided the way to win the presidency was to come up with something called compassionate conservatism—rhetoric which didn’t sound too brutal. Well, Mitt Romney sat down with his advisers and decided the way to win the presidency is unmitigated conservatism and not worried about how brutal it might all sound. And he thus picks Paul Ryan to be his vice president.

Now joining us to talk about the decision of Romney’s, the significance of Romney’s decision, is Mark Karlin. Mark is the founder of, an independent online news source which began posting in the year 2000. He now is working with Truthout, where he holds the editor of BuzzFlash at He writes a daily commentary. And he now joins us from his home in Chicago. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR, BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT.ORG: Thanks, Paul. It’s a pleasure to be on The Real News.

JAY: Thank you. So what do you make of this choice of Romney?

KARLIN: I think it’s one of desperation, although they do seem to be kindred pranksters and spirits of sorts. But clearly Romney did not make a bold decision. He made a decision out of weakness, which was his unfavorability ratings were climbing pretty high, to the point of no return. And once unfavorability ratings sink in, it’s very hard to reverse them on the presidential level. So I think he chose Ryan to galvanize his base, his advisers thought.

And the second reason is that they’re hoping that they will suppress the Democratic vote in enough states that in combination with energizing the right-wing base, the Tea Party base, that they could possibly win. But this is akin (although Paul Ryan is a very different creature than Sarah Palin) to McCain being desperate in having to pick Palin.

JAY: Well, some of the early polling I saw—and I think it was Zogby wrote a piece or actually did the polling—showed that the decision helped him a little bit. He got a bit of a bump with independents. I mean, as we all know, this fight is over a fairly small sliver of the voting public that could go one way or the other, and apparently the Ryan choice has not hurt him.

KARLIN: Polling at this point is going to be very hard to decipher. Any decision he made at this point was going to give him a bump. Either party, when a vice president’s chosen, generally gets a bump. There is also polling that I saw this morning—I believe it was the Gallup poll—that showed that the choice of the vice presidential candidate being the congressman for the 1st district in Wisconsin, Mr. Ryan, actually had the—he has the highest unfavorability since Dan Quayle, which is Romney’s weak point. And again, when you have an unfavorability rating, that’s very hard to reverse in a presidential election.

JAY: Now, everybody was expecting (what was the joke about that Etch A Sketch thing?) that once Romney got the nomination, he’d move closer and closer to the center. But clearly this choice isn’t that.

KARLIN: No, it’s not, because Obama has done what Republicans typically do. The Obama campaign—unlike Obama’s governance, which tends to be weak and very appeasing to the Republican right, his campaigns tend to be run like a Karl Rove campaign. They’re quick to define the opposition. They defined Romney early. And now to the public at large, except for the Republican base, he seems like a shady character. And also he doesn’t seem to have any sort of center. I don’t know if you can name any of his major policies. So what I think happened is that with Mr. Ryan joining the ticket, you’ve really got the Democrats defining the Republicans in the way the Republicans, for instance, defined John Kerry early through swiftboating him.

JAY: But certainly Romney knew this, that this would now be a clear-cut campaign, and that, in fact, if anything, because Romney’s so vague on policy, it’s now going to be Ryan’s policy that Romney’s running on, and that’s—you would think pleases the Democrats. But on the other hand, they’ve done their own polling, and it does seem that there’s—you know, in the polls they’re neck and neck. It’s almost virtually tied. But it does seem like a section of the American working class is ready to vote for a Ryan type of budget, certainly, at least, in some of the more rural and suburban areas, if not in the big urban towns. And that seems a shift from what happened in 2000. And it also—it seems to be significant that they think they can win with this kind of politics.

KARLIN: I think, again, Paul, from my estimation, that this was not a decision made out of strength; it was a decision made out of weakness. You’re right: usually both party candidates move to the center from primaries where they’re appealing to the right or left, depending upon whether they’re a Republican or a Democrat. To move further to the right is an indication that the Romney campaign was floundering. Before the selection of Ryan, the polling showed that the independents were swinging very decisively toward Obama. And so perhaps you’re right that he got—Romney got a bit of that independent vote back.

But remember, Ryan’s very vulnerable. As Paul Krugman says, you know, his budget is a farce. It doesn’t make any sense. And so when that’s dissected a bit more, I think the Republicans are going to have a hard time defending it.

Paul Ryan’s a very ambitious congressman. He’s been on the public payroll since 1998 when he was first elected. Taxpayers, as I wrote in a commentary for Truthout and BuzzFlash yesterday, have basically been paying his salary most of his adult life, almost his entire adult life, plus providing him with a pension that he only pays a small percentage, I think, single-digit, to get and will pay up to 80 percent of his salary, which is $173,000 a year as a congressman. And he gets very generous health care. Not only does he only have to pay a third of the premiums, but he also gets free additional health care at U.S. government hospitals like Walter Reed for him and his family. So he’s done very well on the back of the taxpayer as a freeloader or, as Ayn Rand would say, a parasite.

JAY: So let’s just quickly remind everyone about the main elements of Ryan’s proposed budget and what that would mean for people.

KARLIN: That’s an interesting question, because he’s modified it since it’s been introduced. In the beginning he was for the elimination of Medicare as we know it now. He’s saying, well, no, not really; there would be an option that you can stay on the traditional plan, but you can also accept vouchers. He’s also changed his tune somewhat on Social Security. But the bill really hasn’t changed; it’s just the way he’s expressed packaging the bill.

I might point out that I wrote a column this morning that one can get to by going to, and it will lead you to where it’s located on, in which Ryan last year on videotape—so no right-winger can say this is made up—said that there has been no developed nation or no nation where universal health care has succeeded. I think he said universal health care has failed in every nation that’s tried it.

The reality is that the U.S. is about the only developed nation that doesn’t have some sort of universal coverage. And on top of that, if it was such a horrible type of program, then why have voters in every country where there is universal health care? And I mean every country, including Israel, the U.K., Canada, Denmark, Germany. Why have they all continued to support universal coverage and not voted for people like their versions of Paul Ryan to eliminate it if it’s so bad? So he’s basically lying to the American public. You just—we have a map posted of where there’s universal health care.

And one interesting point to just show you how flummoxed the Romney–Ryan team is in this match is that when Romney was in Israel—and this was widely reported, but I’m not sure it sunk in on a lot of people—he actually praised the Israeli health care system and said it was a model for the United States in efficiency and cost savings. Well, the Israeli health care system, since the founding of Israel in 1948 (and then it was somewhat modified in 1995), requires everyone to be insured through the state of Israel, and care is free for all citizens of the state of Israel. So Mitt Romney in Israel was supporting universal health care and holding it up as a model for the United States.

It’s really inexplicable. One finds it very hard to wrap one’s arms off of a statement like that from a candidate who opposes universal health care and now has a vice presidential candidate who claims that there’s no nation where universal health care has succeeded.

JAY: But if you take the sort of litmus-test issues and poll them on their own—Social Security, health care insurance, the whole issue of social safety net—the majority of people support all those programs in fairly significant numbers. But you still look at the presidential polling, and they’re virtually tied. And with Ryan you would think there would have been a shift based on individual-issue polling against Romney, but we haven’t seen it yet. How do you explain that?

KARLIN: Again, I think that presidential campaigns have their own cycles to them, and there are certain announcements that, just because of all the attention that’s focused by the media on the announcement, generally give a lift to candidates. Romney will get a lift going out of the Republican convention, and then Obama will get a lift going out of the Democratic convention that follows in early September. This is a natural cycle of campaigns. I don’t think it’s a true indicator of the effect, in this case, of the choice of Paul Ryan on the ticket.

I think, personally, they are trying to double down on the Romney campaign with galvanizing their base. The challenge that creates for them is that the progressive base of the Democratic Party was a bit indifferent about Obama. Some people were going to stay home. I think the Ryan choice has galvanized the Democrats to become unified again behind Obama, whatever some people perceive as his faults. And so, as much as it will gain enthusiasm of the Tea Party, though, it’s going to gain enthusiasm among the Democrats to turn out.

JAY: And what effect do you think will be these state laws that you say are disenfranchising people? How big a factor will that be?

KARLIN: It depends upon the state. Obama has a double-digit lead Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania laws currently—it’s about to be ruled upon by a state court in Pennsylvania. The federal justice department has gotten a couple of state laws struck down. So you are left with some in Ohio. They have a fairly rigorous law. But the reality is: that can play an impact.

Certainly we saw on in 2000 what was called caging, when 100,000 voters were eliminated through a company called ChoicePoint. And Greg Palast has reported extensively on this. That probably gave the opening for the Supreme Court to appoint Bush as president, because if those people had been able to vote—and 60,000 of those people were subsequently found to be people who should have been able to vote—that Gore would have won in a landslide. I think it’s important to remember that Gore won the national vote by 540,000 votes, he won the popular vote by over half a million votes.

As far as this election is concerned, if you look at the key battleground states right now, most sites, including right-wing sites, have Obama with a clear electoral victory were it held today. So when you look at the popular vote and the percentages in polls, that doesn’t reflect the electoral college.

JAY: Right. Alright. Thanks for joining us, Mark.

KARLIN: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mark Karlin is the editor of BuzzFlash at Truthout.  He served as editor and publisher of BuzzFlash for ten years before joining Truthout in 2010.  BuzzFlash has won four Project Censored Awards.