We know how Paul Ryan’s playing in Washington.
But how’s he playing in Kenosha?
That’s the question that will be answered today as the House Budget Committee chair makes a rare visit to the city that lost an auto plant and much of the rest of its industrial base under watch of the free-trade supporting congressman.
It could be a rude awakening for Wall Street’s favorite son.
Ryan’s gotten used to the limelight in Washington, where he has successfully peddled the fantasy that "America is broke." The Republican pointman on fiscal matters had even got some Democrats buying into a debate about how to slash the federal deficit that has as its endgame not a balanced budget but the radical restructuring of Medicare and Medicaid and the beginning of a process of privatizing Social Security.
Ryan’s comfortable with the cheers from pundits and political allies, and the undue respect afforded his extreme notions by media outlets that aren’t very good at covering two things: economics and politics. He was even invited to present the Republican response to the State of the Union address (only to be upstaged by the even-more factually challenge Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Presidential Wannabee.)
Ryan’s a rock star in Washington.
But he’s not playing so well at home, in southeast Wisconsin’s 1st district.
His spring recess tour on the towns was supposed to be a triumphal return of a hometown hero turned sudden celebrity. Instead, the tour has the feel of those dismal dates played by the aging rockers in the movie "Spinal Tap."
Ryan is playing the same old songs — a chorus of Ronald Reagan’s "We’re Broke, So Let’s Cut Taxes for the Rich" here, a solo version of Barry Goldwater’s "We Can’t Afford Medicare" there — but the crowds aren’t cheering like they used to.
In Milton, Wisconsin, he was confronted with tough questions about his proposal to turn Medicare and Medicaid into voucher programs that will enrich insurance companies and health care conglomerates while making it harder for elderly and low-income Americans to get the care they need. Why, his constituents asked, does he want to shift all the burder to working families and those in need? And why does the congressman who whipped fellow Republicans to back the 2008 bank bailouts reject calls for progressive taxation and corporate accountability?
Ryan’s sputtering answers to those questions drew catcalls in Milton and that was just the beginning. And now he’s headed for Kenosha.
Ryan will be on the hotseat as Kenosha promises to: "Ask questions and demand answers!"