Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Paul Ryan's Wonkery: Myth and Reality

From Evil Sax/Diary of a Republican Hater:

The more you learn about Ryan and his career the more striking it is that he has become the de facto intellectual leader of the Republican party as Mitt Romney suggested on Saturday. 

     There is a good deal of mythology surrounding Ryan as something much more than he is. His image is as someone who's open, a wonk, wants to hear from all sides and reach a compromise. Someone who wants to get things done. 

     Yet what I can't get over in reviewing his career, is how little he has gotten done in 13 years. It's really unbelievable that he of all people has become so elevated in the Republican party. 

     "Now, we are truly at an inflection point, between the Barack Obama and Paul Ryan approaches to government,� National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote recently, treating the elevation of the chairman of the House Budget Committee over the presidential nominee as his party’s standard-bearer as so obvious it requires no explanation. �We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget,� says anti-tax enforcer Grover Norquist. �Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States.� In any case, Romney has shown no inclination to challenge Ryan, praising him fulsomely and even promising him, according to The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes, he’d enact Ryan’s plan in the first 100 days. Republicans envision an administration in which Romney has relegated himself to a kind of head-of-state role, at least domestically, with Ryan as the actual head of government."

     "To find a parallel to the way Ryan has so thoroughly seized control of the Republican agenda and identity, you have to go back at least to Gingrich in his nineties heyday, or possibly to Reagan. Yet Gingrich and Reagan rose to the national scene while cultivating an image as radicals�it was their battle scars, inflicted by the mainstream political Establishment, that lent them the credibility to speak for the conservative base. Ryan, by contrast, has achieved something much stranger: He has ascended to his present position aloft a chorus of acclaim from the corners of the Establishment that once greeted Gingrich and Reagan with loathing. He is the only politician revered as much by the mainstream media as by the tea party. By some measure, he’s the most popular guy in Washington."

    This piece by Jonathan Chait, called fittingly enough, "The Legendary Paul Ryan" says it all. How exactly has he achieved such a standing? Reagan and Gingrich had a body of work behind them. What's striking about Ryan's time as a Congressman, is how meager is record is in terms of passing legislation. In 13 years, he has managed to pass only 2 bills. 

     These were not exactly big, serious, bold bills either: one renamed a post office, the other changed the excise tax on bow and arrow sales. It's interesting that someone with such a sterile career has become the ultimate ideas man. 

    However, there is no getting away from it, his budget has become legendary. Chait suggests that his real talent is to seem genuine and wonkish. Unlike a Bush or a Palin he appears to be data driven:

   "Seeming genuine is something Ryan does extraordinarily well. And here is where something deeper is at play, more than Ryan’s charm and winning personality, something that gets at the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary Washington. The Ryan brand is rooted in his ostentatious wonkery. Because, unlike the Bushes and the Palins, he grounds his position in facts and figures, he seems like an encouraging candidate to strike a bargain. But the thing to keep in mind about Ryan is that he was trained in the world of Washington Republican think tanks. These were created out of a belief that mainstream economists were hopelessly biased to the left, and crafted an alternative intellectual ecosystem in which conservative beliefs�the planet is not getting warmer, the economy is not growing more unequal�can flourish, undisturbed by skepticism. Ryan is intimately versed in the blend of fact, pseudo-fact, and pure imagination inhabiting this realm."

   That's a good point. What Ryan is more than anything is not so much a used car salesman, as a conservative think tank's brain trust. Yet, he has no history at compromise. The GOP mostly just tries to gloss over the fact that his budget has nothing to do with balancing the budget. Indeed, it increases it more than the President's does. 

   Yet Ryan continually reproaches the President for failing to adopt Simpson-Bowles, somehow managing to totally gloss over the fact that neither did he; indeed, his recalcitrance was a big part of why it went no where.

   Mind you, I think eulogizing Simpson-Bowles is something of a mental trap. This proposal is surely overly dignified. I for one, never got why this was such a priority during the Summer of 2011. The irony is that now, Romney himself hardly wanted this campaign to be mostly about arguing about Simpson-Bowles and the Ryan budget. 

   However, it's breathtaking how he is credited with being a paragon of fiscal rectitude. It's almost problematic to know just how to explode the Ryan myth. It's not hard to do but ti's a mistake to get caught up in the deficit reduction trap. 

  We have no danger of a debt crisis. If deficit reduction is every a priority-I'm quite agnostic about this-it certainly isn't a luxury we can afford right now. 

  So Democrats should beware of getting hamstrung into becoming too big a booster of Simpson-Bowles. To tell the truth I really don't miss it. 

  But Ryan's fraudulent place as any kind of compromiser, wonk, or deal maker must be exploded. More and more in learning about Ryan's career, the only reaction you can have is where's the beef?

  You see this quite clearly now. Ryan's inclusion on the ticket has not led to a more "high minded" campaign. The media sure is shrill about this "high mindedness" canard though. 

  Romney became totally unhinged yesterday, accusing the President of "a campaign of hate." Ryan has ducked questions just as gamely as Romney has. He won't talk about his budget or Medicare or taxes. or what "loopholes" he and Romney have in mind. 

  Mr. Serious is a serious fraud, a mere confidence trick,, fool's gold. I like that last analogy as he as an a follower of Ayn Rand believes in "hard money" and a return to gold or even coinage. 

   Ryan has copied everything about Romney's fraudulent, content free campaign right down to saying he'll only release two years of taxes-so as not to embarrass his boss. 

   He released "several" tax returns to Romney. What Ryan represents is thinly veiled Social Darwinism. Though for some reason Ryan is supposed to attract Catholics, the fact is that the Catholic Church surely teaches against Social Darwinism as much as anything. Ryan evidently didn't learn about the Social Gospel from Aquinas despite claiming that he was who most influenced his philosophy. 
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