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FISCAL HAWK: Romney's running mate's targeting of the Medicare healthcare scheme will frighten voters into the Democratic camp
"EXTREMISM in the defence of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"
With those words in 1964, United States senator Barry Goldwater sealed the fate of Republican conservatives, until this year.
The country landslided Lyndon Johnson into his own term, and he sealed his own fate by pushing the unwinnable Vietnam War with extremism.
If the Democrat, the usual majority party, had not nominated a lefty extremist in 1972, they would have had four years less of Richard Nixon, the only flip-flopper as bad as Mitt Romney. Republicans this year would have done well to listen to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's Global Movement of Moderates.
Now, usually, the vice-presidential nominee just doesn't matter. Anyway, most successful candidates don't want an underling outshining them. But Romney had no choice. Extremists have come back to the fore in the Republican Party. Their passion led to a minority congressional takeover. To be sure, it is refreshing to have on the Republican ticket someone whose views have only sharpened, but in the wrong direction.
This year, the vice-presidential race will define the election. Paul Ryan is not just a fiscal hawk. He takes no survivors.
Romney can't win without the conservatives' help to add to the more moderate and larger part of his party. Ryan's rigorous analysis of America's economic crisis does the right arithmetic. But it does the wrong sums.
You just can't expect the poorest and the middle class to pay the entire cost of any economic fix, and it's too late for Romney, even less so for Ryan, to change course. And it's worse.
The Huffington Post wrote that: "Ryan turns out, upon closer inspection, not to be a purifying ideologue, but rather a young, power-hungry, ladder-climbing trimmer."
The primary issue of the campaign will be not just the lousy economy. It will be Medicare.
From age 65 (a growing percentage of the population), seniors are covered 80 per cent by a federal programme, and can buy, for US$100 (RM310) a month, an insurance plan to cover the 20 per cent (even if I live to be 200, I'll not outlive the 20 per cent benefits I've received from that one).
Now Ryan's plan supposedly will not affect those benefiting, but Americans hear about changes in an entitlement and the beneficiaries go ballistic. Most seniors will get scared, especially in battleground swing states like Florida, which has the largest percentage of oldies.
And now the pre-seniors, expecting full medical benefits in a while, will also get scared. Mitt can say "economy, economy, economy", and Democrats only have to say "Medicare, Medicare, Medicare". And by the way, the seniors are a growing segment of the voting population, and we have more time to vote.
Because pre-seniors and seniors hold onto the programme like life itself. They know that any meddling can only decrease benefits. Of course, if you straight-line present trends, Social Security and Medicare will break the budget. But things never work quite that way. Quite a long time ago, the smartest senator of the century, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, at whose death Hillary Clinton inherited his seat, showed that Social Security wasn't vested.
Long since it would have gone broke. But privately, I recall his clinking of deeply filled glasses of Scotch and laughingly saying to me "I just want to shock the system. The Great Republic isn't going to go broke." He correctly predicted the necessary adjustments and laughed, while topping up his glass.
It would have been refreshing if Ryan hadn't aimed all his adjustments at the lower 95 per cent of the republic. The top five per cent are going to get richer. There's never been so glaring a contrast between candidate teams in American history, because the great chameleon has, predictably, accepted his vice-presidential candidate's programme hook, line and sinker.
I'm not going to go as far out on a limb as I did in this paper in 2007, when I predicted the long-shot presidency of a black junior senator from Illinois. So I'm only predicting a sure victory for the current president of the US, and that's good enough for me.
Every week, the "present trends" look better and better, and the consequences of the Ryan plan are only just beginning to sink in. Thank you, Mr Ryan, for re-electing Barack Obama.