The conventional political wisdom holds that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to energize the conservative base. Republican voters remained unsure about Romney's conservative credentials, both fiscally and socially. Ryan is a Catholic, social conservative and a fiscally draconian "entitlement" cutter of the first degree. He helps Romney draw the clearest "contrast" with Obama administration. Thus, the choice of Ryan provides the basis for a real contest.
But with the endless attacks on Romney's wealth and wealth-protecting measures -- he's a billionaire who refuses to release more than two tax returns, and who, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, actually paid zero taxes for ten years -- Ryan is a truly preposterous choice. Ryan contributes no electoral viability to Romney. Anyone who still wonders whether or not Romney favors the rich will be left with no doubts now. The choice of Ryan provides the "opposition" with a ready caricature – so ready as to be distrusted as prefabricated. This caricature will be brandished to scare independents into the Democratic column and otherwise disaffected Democrats into the voting booth.
But the Ryan choice does help both parties redraw their party lines and re-establish the supposed "stark contrast" that true believers are supposed to take as real. That is, the Ryan choice works to legitimate the electoral system itself, a system that really provides no access to political power for the vast majority, but rather contains their choices within a sham opposition. The parties not only kick each other when they are down, but they also pick each other back up, because each needs its opponent in order to continue the farcical show of difference in order to contain real opposition within their bifurcated fraudulence. The object is to contain all differences within the party system in order to keep real opposition from mounting from without.
The Ryan choice sets up the possibility for "winning" voters to feel that they had a choice, and that they chose the lesser evil. They can now rest assured that less evil things will happen. Meanwhile, they will have voted for the very evil that they believed they were averting. They will breathe a sigh of relief, while Republicans will continue to rail for another four years. At the same time, President Barack Obama will proceed to enact austerity measures that Democrats would rail against if enacted by Romney (and which Romney would have enacted had he been elected). The Democrats will sit silent as Obama cuts Social Security and Medicare (to say nothing of his policies of drone bombing, domestic surveillance, secret renditions, and maintaining a list of American citizens targeted for assassination without so much as charges let alone a trial).
"But what if Romney wins?" cry the Democratic faithful. His policies would be worse! Millions would suffer because you mistook the election for a farce! We must support Obama to avoid that possibility!
That’s exactly the conclusion we are meant to draw.
Rest assured, the ruling elite will not let it happen. On the other hand, the threat had to be posed (as unlikely and unreal as it is). The threat was necessary for the legitimation of Obama's austerity measures. ("At least it's not the Ryan Plan!")
Yet the social spending cuts that Obama has promised, and that the Ryan Plan includes to a greater degree, are inevitable. The cuts are inevitable not because greedy Republicans demand them, or because Obama is a Republican in sheep's clothing, or because Obama has character flaws, but because along with Republicans, the Democrats voted for every war funding bill, the increased military budget, bailouts to the tune of trillions of dollars, and the tax breaks for the wealthy. We can expect nothing but more service of the corporate, military and imperialist elite by Obama in his second term. His austerity plans will be masked in the rhetoric of FDR-like reform, but they will be not be anything of the sort--any more than ACA is actually a progressive reform and not the gratuitous bailout of the insurance industry that it is.
Austerity measures are in store, no matter which party controls the White House, because they are needed by the ruling elite to maintain their position and identity as a class. Obama is simply the better choice for the ruling elite because the majority will sit unsuspecting as he enacts the cuts, while the rightwing provides cover by calling him a socialist.
The Ryan choice is the choice of a ruling elite banking on a second Obama term. Romney and Ryan make Obama appear genial and generous by contrast, and that is exactly the goal.