Home / General / And the “Centrist” Rush to Praise a Fantasy Paul Ryan Begins

And the “Centrist” Rush to Praise a Fantasy Paul Ryan Begins


Now this is a good, old-fashioned Slate pitch from Will Saletan. In addition to the countless other problems — in what sense is the conservatism of Ryan not the conservatism of Boehner and McConnell? — he has James Stewart’s problem of projecting things onto Ryan’s agenda that aren’t actually there:

Ryan also shows that a real conservative doesn’t worship any part of the budget, including defense. His expenditure caps can’t be squared with Romney’s nutty pledge to keep military spending above four percent of GDP.

I agree that it would be nice to have a Republican who would advocate major cuts in defense spending. Unlike Saletan, this would not compel me to support someone who wants to make sure that many Americans lack access to decent health care, decent pensions, decent government services, or reproductive rights, but it would be something. The problem is, the actually existing Paul Ryan favors increases in defense spending, that would make his cuts to other domestic programs even more savage:

The House Republican budget released Tuesday would shield the Pentagon from nearly $500 billion in automatic cuts and roll back some of the $487 billion reduction approved in last year’s Budget Control Act.

The plan from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) asks six congressional committees — but not Armed Services — to find $261 billion in savings to help roll back the automatic cuts through sequestration that were triggered by the failure of the supercommittee.

The Ryan plan also increases national defense spending to $554 billion in 2013, an increase of $8 billion over the $546 billion that was agreed to under the Budget Control Act.

In addition, leaving aside whether or not it’s a desirable trait in a politician, Saletan’s fantasy Ryan who’s a “fiscal conservative” who would “think like an accountant” also bears no resemblance whatsoever to the real Ryan, who is a standard-issue Republican supply-sider who doesn’t care at all about deficits, or indeed anything but a massive upward redistribution of wealth (and increasing our already bloated defense budget):

Whether Ryan’s plan even is a “deficit-reduction plan” is highly debatable. Ryan promises to eliminate trillions of dollars’ worth of tax deductions, but won’t identify which ones. He proposes to sharply reduce government spending that isn’t defense, Medicare (for the next decade, anyway), or Social Security, but much of that reduction is unspecified, and when Obama named some possible casualties, Ryan complained that those hypotheticals weren’t necessarily in his plan. Ryan is specific about two policies: massive cuts to income-tax rates, and very large cuts to government programs that aid the poor and medically vulnerable. You could call all this a “deficit-reduction plan,” but it would be more accurate to call it “a plan to cut tax rates and spending on the poor and sick.” Aside from a handful of exasperated commentators, like Paul Krugman, nobody does.

The persistent belief in the existence of an authentic, deficit hawk Ryan not only sweeps aside the ugly particulars of his agenda, it also ignores, well, pretty much everything he has done in his entire career, and pretty much everything he has said until about two years ago.


Ryan has, retroactively, depicted himself as a dissenter from the fiscal profligacy of the Bush administration, and reporters have mostly accepted his account at face value. (“Ryan watched his party’s leadership inflate the deficit by cutting tax rates like Kemp conservatives while spending like Kardashians,” wrote Time last year.) In reality, Ryan was a staunch ally in Bush’s profligacy, dissenting only to urge Bush to jack up the deficit even more.

“We noticed that the green-eyeshade, austerity wing of the party was afraid of class warfare,” Ryan said during Bush’s first term. “They fear increases in the debt, and they were overlooking issues of growth, opportunity, and free markets.” For those uninitiated in the tribal lingo of Beltway conservatives, this may sound like gibberish. But those inside the conservative subculture invest these buzzwords with deep meaning. “Green eyeshade” is a term of abuse appropriated by the supply-siders to describe Republicans who still cared more about deficit control than cutting taxes. “Growth” and “opportunity” mean tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich, and “class warfare” means any criticism thereof. Ryan’s centrist admirers hear his frequent confessions that both parties have failed as an ideological concession. What he means is that Republicans were insufficiently fanatical in their devotion to cutting taxes for the rich.

In 2001, Ryan led a coterie of conservatives who complained that George W. Bush’s $1.2 trillion tax cut was too small, and too focused on the middle class. In 2003, he lobbied Republicans to pass Bush’s deficit-­financed prescription-drug benefit, which bestowed huge profits on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. In 2005, when Bush campaigned to introduce private accounts into Social Security, Ryan fervently crusaded for the concept. He was the sponsor in the House of a bill to create new private accounts funded entirely by borrowing, with no benefit cuts. Ryan’s plan was so staggeringly profligate, entailing more than $2 trillion in new debt over the first decade alone, that even the Bush administration opposed it as “irresponsible.”

For a further antidote, see Pierce.

…on the one hand, Ryan favors eviscerating the social safety net to fund upper-class tax cuts, making abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states, and permitting hospitals to refuse to perform abortions even when they’re necessary to save a woman’s life. But on the other hand, Ryan’s wife wears a Green Bay packers sweatshirt! If you were a real feminist, like Ann Althouse, you’d focus on real issues like that. Have you ever seen Michelle Obama wearing a Blackhawks jersey? I rest my case!

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • JP Stormcrow


  • Incontinentia Buttocks

    Gotta hand it to Saletan…proving once again why he’s a leading light of “centrist” apologia for the right.

  • ploeg

    New York Times business columnist James Stewart, for instance, recently opined that Ryan’s plan would usher in an overhaul of the tax code that would raise taxes on the rich, by eliminating special treatment for capital-gains income.

    It is certainly true, as Stewart argues, that one could reduce tax rates to the levels advocated by Ryan without shifting the burden onto the poor and middle class if you eliminated the lower rate enjoyed by capital-gains income. But Ryan has been crystal clear throughout his career in his opposition to raising capital-gains taxes. An earlier, more explicit version of his tax plan eliminated any tax at all on capital gains. The current version, while refraining from specifics, insists, “Raising taxes on capital is another idea that purports to affect the wealthy but actually hurts all participants in the economy.” I asked Stewart why he believed so strongly that Ryan actually supported such a reform, despite the explicit opposition of his budget. “Maybe he’s being boxed in” by right-wing colleagues, Stewart suggested.

    Yes, maybe he’s being boxed in by his colleagues. And his colleagues are being boxed in by Grover Norquist. And Grover is being boxed in by his donors. And his donors are being boxed in by… oh, fuck it. Why reason with a man who is so obviously in love?

    • Davis

      It’s literally incredible that a business writer would believe for a second that any Republican would favor an increase in capital gains taxes. Well, maybe not. They have a fantasy Paul Ryan floating around in their heads.

      The ideal republican tax plan would eliminate all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends, introduce a flat tax on wages, eliminate the mortgage interest deduction, and impose a national sales tax. Some taxes they like, the ones that affect middle and lower incomes only.

      • I never understood the Republican obsession with a sales tax. Did they really hate Eight Men Out that much? I’m sure Brother from Another Planet would piss them off. But they’ve never heard of it.

        • Davis

          Well, some conservative economists think we need to tax consumption rather than investment. Encourage savings as in Japan. That it affects lower income people rather than the rich is of no concern.

          • firefall

            not of no concern, just .. a beneficial side-effect

          • Furious Jorge

            Of course, by encouraging savings, the supply of loanable funds would go up, meaning borrowing costs would fall … which makes it easier to invest with other people’s money.

            Funny how it all comes back to making life easier for rich people.

          • Corey

            There’s no reason a consumption tax can’t be progressive.

        • ploeg

          A consumption tax always sounds like a great idea to people who have difficulty consuming one tenth of their income. Much better than a tax that applies to their entire income.

        • (I was trying to make a John Sayles/sales tax/”Sayles tax” joke. Puns are the cruelest mistress. Back to the drawing board, I guess.)

          • Timb

            An obscure allusion, but I appreciate your effort

          • Furious Jorge

            I was wondering about that. And now I feel slow for having missed it.

            Eight Men Out is one of my favorites, and a tax should be levied on people who haven’t seen it.

        • UserGoogol

          There are certain non-conservative (even liberal) arguments for taxing consumption instead of income. The whole point of income is to eventually consume with it, and by taxing money on its way out instead of its way in you encourage savings, which is generally considered a good thing in the long run. So it’s appealing for conservatives who want to actually try to make an argument and act like reasonable wonks.

          But of course, the more corrupt reason is that it’s much much easier to implement consumption taxes as flat taxes, so it gives them an excuse to shift the burden of taxation away from the “wealth creators” even though flat taxes and consumption taxes are totally separate ideas.

          • Yes. VAT is a major form of taxation in the EU.

            I like UK VAT better than US sales tax because 1) it’s collected in a less obnoxious way (i.e., the tax is nearly always built into the price tag rather than assessed at the till) and 2) it’s uniform (no state by state junk or bizarre, amazon subsidizing internet exceptions).

            Since poor people consume most of their income, consumption taxes are regressive. OTOH, with the right exemptions (e.g., food has 0% VAT in the UK) you can recover a measure of progressivity. It’s harder, though not impossible, to dodge or game (than a sales tax and arguably income taxes).

            One very nice feature, I would have thought, is that VAT makes should make it easy to stimulate or depress consumption. But, interestingly that doesn’t seem to be the case. Higher take home wages seems much more effective than lower prices. Surprising to me!

            • Rarely Posts

              Conservative Republicans specifically try to make taxes as annoying and obnoxious and difficult as possible, so that everyday people start hating the government and are constantly angry (anger encourages conservatism).

          • Davis

            I mentioned Japan on purpose. They save too much, and we are saving too much right now.

            • Well, who’s saving too much?

              Businesses certainly are (i.e., sitting on huge piles of cash). Investors are (i.e., sitting on Treasuries). Banks are (i.e., sitting on ill gotten loot). None of these behaviors is encouraged by a consumption tax.

              Households sort of are in the form of “paying off debt,” but that’s not really a great form of “savings”.

        • hylen

          Brother from Another Planet . . . good flick!

  • DrDick

    Come on now, Scott. The Very Serious (and very affluent) people have to say nice things about Mr. Ryan to preserve their tax cuts without seeming like the totally self-interested sociopaths they are.

  • Davis X. Machina

    He sponsored a Social Security privatization bill that the Bush administration thought was spendthrift?


    That’s like the political version of Homer Simpson’s question “Can God microwave a burrito so hot not even He can eat it?”

    • Timb

      That cannot be true, since Will Saletan just told me he wants to cut entitlements, which MUST be done right now, because we’re gonna be Greece in 5 years.

      Are you saying Saletan could be wrong?

  • c u n d gulag

    Let me see if I got this straight:
    “Privatizing” Ryan’s wife wears a Green Bay Packers zweatshirt.

    A sweatshirt from the only team NOT owned by a Galtian Ubermensch?

    A team where the regular people own a share of the team?

    A team in the most Socialist of all American professional sports leagues?

    A team named after a union job?

    And a “sweatshirt,” implying physical labor and real work?

    Those Green Bay Packers?

    Could “Privatizing” Ryan’s wife be a closet Democrat?

    • c u n d gulag

      Though I like the Fascistic implication of the spelling of “zweatshirt,” of course, I meant ‘sweatshirt!

    • JoyfulA

      She’s a practicing tax attorney from a rich Oklahoma family background. At least, that’s what an ABC reporter told me last night when I asked on Twitter how’d Ryan get the money for his big fancy house as a youngish man whose highest salary has been U.S. Rep.

      Not a Democrat, I’d bet.

  • Dirk Gently

    Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I don’t think the “middle voters” will be listening to the likes of Saletan. Ryan’s budget will get far more scrutiny than ever before, and be just as (if not more) unpopular. In fact, it will be the showcase for “See? See? We TOLD you today’s Republicans are NOT the same as the ones you remember. These people are crazy.”

    In other words, I can easily see Ryan being a net “reverse coattails” choice for Mittens, where the Dems can use Ryan to cut down the GOP majority in the House, while barely holding the Senate.

    Obviously this is my hope, but I think it’s also a decent likelihood.

  • david mizner

    Did people read to the end of that atrocity? He said he’d be tempted to vote for Ryan for president in four years, this from a guy who claims not to agree with GOP positions on social issues:

    [Ryan]believes ending a pregnancy should be illegal even when it results from rape or incest, or endangers a woman’s health. He was a cosponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a federal bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, which, if passed, would criminalize some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. The National Right to Life Committee has scored his voting record 100 percent every year since he entered the House in 1999. “I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” he told the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack in 2010. “You’re not going to have a truce.”


    • John

      Doesn’t Saletan pretend not to agree with Republican positions on economic issues, too?

    • Oh David…you prompted me to read it and it was far far worse than I’d envisaged. From the title (“Why I love Paul Ryan”!??!?! REALLY!?) to the coy denouement, it is, indeed, an unbelievable pile of crap.

      I think it’s possible that this will prove a worse pick than Palin. His baggage is arguably worse and while he has a rep for being slick and effective off the cuff, I did read one interview wherein he was trying to disavow his Randianism (in prep for being VPed, I presume) and he seemed pretty crappy.

      • my first take to my wife was that he probably wasn’t as bad a pick as palin, in that there’s at least some evidence that palin cost votes.

        but it’s an open question….

        • Right. In general, VP effects are fairly minimal (though, I think there’s a one point home state bump…could be misremembering). But Ryan is all the extremism you could want with a record a mile long.

          Interesting times.

      • Colin Day

        I’m pretty sure he’s disavowed her metaphysics and epistemology (you know, that reality and cognition stuff).

  • Pingback: Your librul media | Suburban Guerrilla()

  • Linnaeus

    I guess they really don’t call him Lord Saletan for nothing.

  • NBarnes

    Does anybody have a link to the original coining of ‘zombie eyed granny starver’ piece? All Google has is repetitions of it with respect to his VP nod last night. And much like with Santorum, every time somebody Googles ‘Paul Ryan’, the first link needs to be to Zombie Eyed Granny Starver.

    • Slocum

      It’s in the dictionary, entry illustrated by Ryan’s face.

      • redwoods

        The first place I saw it was Charles Pierce’s, I’d assumed he’d come up with that inseparable-from-Ryan’s-lumpy-noggin title.

        • swearyanthony

          Pretty certain that’s a Charles Pierce term. I can’t see the first time he used it, but he’s been using it since late last year at least.

  • TT

    Has any con man in history ever had it this easy? Henry Gondorff told Johnny Hooker that “You have to keep this con even after you take his money. He can’t know you took him.” Ryan’s turned that adage completely on its head: the con he’s running is completely, screamingly out in the open, but reporters are amazingly even more credulous about him after the twentieth time he’s picked their pockets than they were after the first.

    Bernie Madoff must be kicking himself. If only he’d set up shop in D.C.

  • Walt

    You have to admit whatever his weaknesses as a politician, that Paul Ryan is one of the premiere fantasy players today. I got 15 points this week in my keeper league from Saletan’s column alone.

  • Malaclypse

    a “fiscal conservative” who would “think like an accountant”

    My head, it is exploded.

    • Some Guy

      ” …when he was asked if he’d continue the current U.S. policy in China he said, “First off, I’m going to send them a message: meet an American leader.” I don’t know what that means, but everybody cheered. “

  • Pingback: Reader Feeder Bits for (Sat. 11-Aug-12 1730) | Boulder Dude()

  • ema

    Ryan favors … making abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states, and permitting hospitals to refuse to perform abortions even when they’re necessary to save a woman’s life.

    Making a safe and effective medical procedure first-degree murder. Allowing hospitals to refuse life-saving care to female patients just because they’re pregnant. Not having these extremist positions be an impediment to you being picked for VP, priceless.

  • Pingback: A funny coincidence | Fraser Sherman's Blog()

  • JP Stormcrow

    But on the other hand, Ryan’s wife wears a Green Bay packers sweatshirt!

    I know, never read the comments, but I was strangely compelled.

    “So here’s a lovely, wholesome family”. You just nailed the exact thing the Left are going to go after in an attempt to crucify him. Is there anything they despise more?

    The Atwater progression.
    1954: “Nigger, nigger, nigger.”
    1968: [F]orced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff.
    1981: You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes.
    2012: You pick Paul Ryan as your VP candidate.

    • Boy, is that guy onto us.

      If there is one thing Barack Obama supporters despise, it’s a lovely, wholesome family.

      • Marty Huggins

        Sure, but Malia worships the devil and killed that guy at Legoland.

        • arguingwithsignposts

          just to watch him die.

  • central texas

    So, in short, it is like 99.9% of everything else Salatan has ever written; 50% ego, 25% pulled out of his ass, and 25% stupidity. All in a days’ work at Salon.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks


  • Pingback: Links 8/12/12 | Mike the Mad Biologist()

  • Pingback: Paul Ryan Wins No Matter What « A Flea in the Fur of the Beast()

  • Cthulhu
  • Pingback: Maybe We Can Have Nice Things – William Saletan Edition « masscommons()

  • Victorina Vanover

    Bed Bugs Chicago, Treatment of Bed Bugs Chicago, Removal of Bed Bugs Chicago Remove those bed bugs now! Contact our dependable exterminators at http://www.bedbugstreatmentchicago.com/

  • Pingback: The Republican Party Is What It Says It Is, Cont'd - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

It is main inner container footer text