surprising no one, Paul Ryan looks good compared to Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and supervillain Mr. Mxyzptlk

William Saletan thinks Paul Ryan is dreamy — at least compared to the company he keeps:

Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals. My liberal friends point out that Ryan’s plan leaves many details unclear. That’s true. But show me another Republican who has addressed the nation’s fiscal problems as candidly and precisely as Ryan has.

Dude… talk about damning with faint praise.

Saletan continues:

Ryan refutes the Democratic Party’s bogus arguments. He knows that our domestic spending trajectory is unsustainable and that liberals who fail to get it under control are leading their constituents over a cliff, just like in Europe.

Okay. Who are the “liberals” who oppose reducing the budget deficit, exactly? The last time we had a balanced budget was under a Democratic president. The current Democratic president spent nearly all his political capital to pass a bill designed explicitly to bend down the skyrocketing health care cost curve. (Which, according to the actuaries responsible for administering Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP, it will in fact do in the very near future.) President Obama also appointed a commission to come up with a plan to eliminate the debt, and although he didn’t end up adopting the commission’s proposals as his own, its report remains the best-known roadmap out of the debt badlands.

Even in the one big area — Keynesian emergency stimulus — where liberals (but also, you know, economists) do in fact argue for deficit spending, it’s explicitly framed as a short-term solution, not a long-term structural feature. Paul Krugman, to whom all good liberals bow on economic issues, explains it thus:

[S]hort-term outlays offset by long-term austerity is precisely what macroeconomics 101 says you should do when faced with a depressed economy….

[A]lthough the Bushies were happy to use Keynesian arguments to justify their tax cuts, those cuts were all designed to be permanent — that is, they were irresponsible precisely because they weren’t temporary. None of what Obama has done commits that sin: his long-term spending, basically on health reform, is paid for, and everything else, like aid to state and local governments or expansion of unemployment benefits, was both designed to be temporary and has proved temporary in reality.

You can argue, perhaps, that liberals (and economists) are wrong on this point — perhaps we shouldn’t even spend in the short term. But no one in any position of influence or authority among America’s liberals is unaware of our need to curb long-term debt spending. Indeed, many liberals are earnestly searching for ways to increase revenue and decrease expenditures. Many of us would like to see the President end our multiple wars. (To be fair, libertarians want this, too.) A majority of Americans (but especially liberals) would like to see the wealthiest pay a little more in taxes and are comfortable with significant cuts in the defense budget. And there’s an increasing call across the political spectrum for America to rewrite its godawful tax code and adopt a VAT.

Perhaps none of these ideas is the magic bullet, and we’ve got a long way to go. But painting liberals as mulishly opposed to deficit reduction is just silly.

Saletan’s final point:

As the recovery proceeds, we’ll move out of a context in which stimulus made sense, and toward a context in which reining in deficits and debt becomes more essential. We’ll need more attention to those traditional Republican principles. We’ll need more voters, especially young voters, who value those principles….

The party of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, the party of spite and bloviating and recklessness and extremism, isn’t for me. I’m voting for Obama. But four years from now? In a stronger economy, with a runaway debt? And Ryan at the top of the ticket? That’s awfully tempting.

I don’t disagree with any of that, except the last bit. I hope the future of the Republican party is with the disciplined and the fiscally-responsible. But it’s not clear to me that Ryan differs substantially from the current incarnation of his party on… well, anything, really. His positions on social issues are exactly in line with those of Jim Demint and Sarah Palin and everybody else Saletan finds scary in the current lineup. And Ryan’s “Plan For Prosperity,” the graven icon of his economic bona fides, is lousy at balancing the budget and works mainly to turn the core functions of modern government into profit centers for private firms.

And hey, maybe you think all of those ideas are right on. But Ryan, whatever the merits of his positions, doesn’t deviate one whit from the trajectory of his party in the early 21st century, except perhaps in being a little smoother in his delivery than most of his colleagues. It’s true he can have a debate without flecks of venom-laced spittle spraying the podium. That doesn’t incline me to move across the aisle to sit on his lap and let him tell me stories of how much more efficient Social Security will be when it’s managed by Wall Street.

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One Response to surprising no one, Paul Ryan looks good compared to Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and supervillain Mr. Mxyzptlk

  1. Pingback: William Saletan regrets his fling with Paul Ryan | The Handsome Camel

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