Friday, April 08, 2011

No, You Idiots, Ryan Isn't "Courageous"

Just saw a great piece in Time (Yeah, I know, but it happens) by Michael Grunwald. It's about the Beltway nonsense about how Ryan is "courageous" for his determination to screw the non-rich:

You may not like Congressman Paul Ryan's budget plan, but you must admit that it's courageous. You simply must. By order of the Washington establishment, you may question whether Ryan's plan is sensible or humane or even remotely honest, but you have to confess that it is undeniably an extraordinary act of bravery, or else pundits will beat the confession out of you with swoony prose.

To New York Times columnist David Brooks, Ryan's 73-page budget outline — it's not an actual budget — is "the most comprehensive and courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes." Here at, Joe Klein wrote that it's "without question, an act of political courage," while Fareed Zakaria declared that "Ryan's plan is deeply flawed, but it is courageous." The Economist agreed: "Credit where credit is due; whatever you think of Paul Ryan's budget, it is politically gutsy." (See "The Ryan Budget: A Test of Character for Obama.")

This is just weird. Ryan is a conservative Republican committee chairman in a conservative Republican caucus. He was reelected last year with 68% of the vote. Sorry, Joe, but I do question whether it was really courageous for him to propose huge tax cuts for the rich, squeeze health care for the poor, and promise that nobody over 55 — the heart of the conservative Republican base — will have to make any sacrifices. Honestly, does anyone think this week has been bad for Ryan's career?
Yeah, screwing the poor has never taken courage in Washington. It just takes the ability to see where everybody around you stands as well.

As Grunwald points out, what would have been "courageous" is if Ryan had advocated tax increases. Same if he had called for curtailed military spending, or if he had touched that "third rail" of Social Security. But he's not courageous at all. He's just convenient, because he's advocating policies that Americans would never accept in order to fix a deficit that his billion-dollar buddies were responsible for.

One other bit I liked was the one about "adult conversations":

Supposedly, Ryan is brave because he's willing to start an "adult conversation" about the deficit and entitlements in Washington. But politicians talk about the deficit and entitlements all the time. Some close observers of American politics may recall that President Obama proposed a health care bill last year; it included half a billion dollars in Medicare cuts, which Republicans attacked as vicious rationing that would pull the plug on Grandma. I don't recall a lot of David Brooks commentary about the courage of that plan, even though, unlike Ryan's, it had a chance of becoming law.
That's the whole point. "Adult", here, means "realistic". And "realism", in Washington, means admitting that the New Deal is dead, that plutonomy is the new normal, and that the only policies that have a hope in hell of getting implemented are the ones that could issue from the pens held in the Koch brother's desiccated hands.

Thinking that the non-wealthy are allowed to anticipate anything but the workhouse or the gutter? Yeah, that might as well be fairy dust and unicorns for all that it's likely to happen. The only hope people are allowed to have is that the other guy just might get screwed harder and sooner than they are. It's all relative: as long as there's someone worse off than you, you don't have to feel so bad.

That's not "adult", except in the sense of the word where somebody's always getting screwed.

He closes with this:

So by all means, let's have an adult conversation about deficits. A good place to start would be the origins of our current predicament. President Clinton left behind a huge budget surplus. As Joe pointed out, it was wiped out by President Bush's tax cuts, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

All of those budget-busters went on the national credit card. And all of them were supported, no doubt courageously, by Congressman Ryan.
But that's just it. It's people like Joe that are the problem. Sure, they'll savage the policy. But, shit, that's utterly irrelevant and always has been. Obamacare-as-policy was savaged by all the liberal pundits back when it was the finance committee's recommendation, but it's the one that Americans ended up with. What matters is whether or not these guys are willing to put away the personal lionizing of people who think that they're scum and call them out for what they are. Klein will never, ever do that. Unlike his conservative counterparts, Joe Klein would never have the stones to say that someone like Ryan's a convenient coward. That would create issues. Klein can't afford issues. He needs beltway access and beltway friends, and knows that ineffective policy critiques are the perfect way to do it.

(Unfounded, bizarre personal attacks on people to his left are also a great way to do it, which is why Klein became synonymous with it.)

If he didn't need access, and didn't need beltway friends, then he might be comfortable saying that Paul Ryan is an absolute coward, a fool, a liar, and a danger to his country and the people that reside within it. But we'll never, ever know. All we'll ever get is "courageous". More's the pity.

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