An unusually direct Paul Ryan speech in Tampa has touched off a firestorm of controversy between liberal and conservative pundits over whether the GOP is right to take Medicare and other entitlement spending on as the center of a campaign and whether or not the closing of a GM plant was the fault of the Democrats or the Republicans. Many on the left now see him as the number one punching bag for Republican policies.
Before he was tapped as Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan made a name for himself by being a budget hawk and proposing his own plan that received considerable scrutiny. Now that he has a significantly larger role in American politics, his every word (and even past comments) is being examined in detail.
Medicare is often viewed as one of the left's sacred cow, meaning it should never be touched without the responsible party suffering great consequences. Ryan's budget called for Medicare and Social Security to be streamlined because without any adjustments, both programs are projected to become insolvent in the not-too-distant future. Ryan did attack Obama for "raiding" Medicare by shifting funds away from hospitals and other providers.
Part of Ryan's initial strategy to deal with Medicare was to give future seniors a subsidy to buy private insurance. Democrats countered, saying it would "end Medicare as you know it," in essence, making it a voucher. What the left rarely acknowledged was that people currently on Medicare would not be impacted by any future plan. Still, the proposal made his fellow Republicans nervous on the campaign trail.
"It's certainly a tricky issue," Suffolk County, New York GOP chairman John Jay LaValle told Newsday at a delegation breakfast in Tampa this week.
However, New York Sen. Alfonse D'Amato told the same gathering that Ryan's proposals are a good starting point for the discussion on entitlement spending.
"I have to tell you something about this stuff about beating Ryan up – I have some angst, of course," he said. "But the fact of the matter is that the Medicare debacle is going to continue and we're not going to have Medicare unless we continue to deal with the problem. It's just like Ronald Reagan said, we have to deal with Social Security. And he did."
In a Huffington Post article written on Tuesday, Jonathan Cole took Ryan to task on a number issues, especially his Medicare proposals.
"At least five times, Ryan misrepresented the facts. And while none of the statements were new, the context was," wrote Cole. "It's one thing to hear them on a thirty-second television spot or even in a stump speech before a small crowd. It's something else entirely to hear them in prime time address, as a vice presidential nominee is accepting his party's nomination and speaking to the entire country.
Cole went on to take Ryan to task over his "proposed" cuts to Medicare by accusing him of using the costs savings to benefit the wealthy through tax cuts.
"Ryan attacked Obama for 'raiding' Medicare. Again, Ryan has no standing whatsoever to make this attack, because his own budget called for taking the same amount of money from Medicare. Twice," he said. "The only difference is that Ryan's budget used those savings to finance Ryan's priorities, which include a massive tax cut that benefits the wealthy disproportionately."
The other issue liberals are hitting Ryan with is his comments about the General Motors plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., that shut down due to sluggish truck sales. One difference both sides have is that while the closing was announced in June 2008 (when President George W. Bush was still in office), the actual closing of the facility did not take place until April 2009. President Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009.
Ryan used the plant closing in his remarks at the RNC in an attempt to show how Obama's economic policies had failed his district and the nation.
"President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account," said Ryan. "My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory."
"A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: 'I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008."
"Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that's how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight."
Besides arguing over the issue of exactly when the plant officially closed its doors, critics also bring up the fact that Ryan voted for an auto industry bill under President Bush's administration that helped the Janesville plant but spoke against Obama auto industry bailout.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod weighed in by tweeting, "Again, Ryan blames Obama for a GM plant that closed under Bush. But then, they did say they wouldn't "let fact checkers get in the way."
Writing for RedState blog, Moe Lane defended Ryan on the GM issue, saying, "The Democratic Establishment is trying to incite its base by calling something true a lie. Which to me suggests that the Left – specifically, the Obama for America team – is simultaneously utterly contemptuous of its own base's ability to reason, and quietly terrified that said base might eventually wise up to the fact that it's being taken for the Mother of All Rides. That these two attitudes are subtly contradictory should be no surprise: to mangle Lewis Carroll, the Left has long been accustomed to believing six impossible things before breakfast."
Thursday night's speeches ended with Gov. Romney's official acceptance speech.