Fred Hiatt’s most recent conservertarian affirmative action hire proudly announces that she’s the last person on Earth to believe Paul Ryan’s bullshit:
It is possible the words “He cared deeply and passionately about the federal budget” have never before been strung together in the English language. But if they had been written somewhere, it would have been about House Speaker Paul D. Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican cared about the federal budget the way teenage girls care about movie stars, the way Angelina Jolie cares about refugees, the way a dog cares about a bone.
So instead of making bar charts and talking about the best inflation index for calculating cost-of-living adjustments, Ryan turned to the task of holding his party together while its various factions lunged for each other’s throats. It was a task he struggled at, but given the circumstances, it is difficult to imagine anyone else could have done better, or indeed, half as well.
The politics that keep fractious coalitions coalescing are necessarily, well, political: greasy compromises, inadequate half-measures, and transparently insincere blandishments to appalling bedfellows. These are unsightly things to watch a beloved figure undertake. The results were equally unattractive: a failed health-care reform that made our shaky health-care markets tremble harder, and a successful tax bill that will add trillions to the deficits he once deplored.
Should he have called out Trump more boldly than he did, refused to pass a tax reform without some reasonable attempt to pay for it, and generally made more of a nuisance of himself to the more irresponsible elements of his party? Perhaps. But holding a divided party, or a divided country together, is a delicate and important task. We shouldn’t be too quick to condemn those who attempt it. And when they go down, we should bury them with honors.
The obvious problem is that the idea that Ryan was a green-eyeshaded policy wonk whose top priority was fiscal responsibility is howlingly false, belied not only by all of his actions but by his words before he had to care about coalition-building at all:
The key to Ryan’s rise was that very few people understand who he was or where he came from. Ryan was a conservative-movement ideologue devoted to supply-side economics. During the Bush administration, Ryan demanded larger increases to the budget deficit than those he dismissed as “the green-eyeshade, austerity wing of the party” could swallow. He demanded larger debt-financed tax cuts, and tried to drum up support for a debt-financed Social Security privatization scheme that the Bush administration rejected as fiscally irresponsible. As a back-bench ideologue, he attracted little attention except from a handful of conservatives who agreed with his ideas.
Ryan burst onto the national scene in 2010 because he simultaneously fulfilled two major needs. The Republican Party needed a new leader who could rebrand them after the disaster of the Bush administration. And the national media and the business elite needed a Republican who could serve as a projection of their disappointment with the Obama administration.
Ryan inhabited this peculiar role because the news media, having concluded that the Obama administration had forsaken bipartisanship and irresponsibly inflated the deficit, desperately needed someone to play the part it had cast. The fact that Ryan personally and repeatedly undermined every single bipartisan negotiation to reduce the deficit — opposing the Bowles-Simpson plan, direct negotiations with the administration, and a compromise Obama hoped to strike using the fiscal cliff as a prod — did not shake loose his reputation.
What finally killed off the myth of Paul Ryan was Donald Trump. Here was a figure who absolutely revolted the same elites Ryan had cultivated. In the face of something as large and obvious and grotesque as Trump, Ryan could no longer straddle the gap between his base and the national media. He tried, for a while, by publicly standing behind his party’s nominee while signaling his discomfort sub rosa.
Once Trump assumed the presidency, the contradiction became impossible to ignore or manage. Ryan submitted himself fully to the president. As House Speaker, Ryan has played an indispensable role in insulating Trump from public and legal accountability. Ryan has buried votes that would compel the release of Trump’s tax returns, and unleashed Devin Nunes to run a counter-investigation designed to discredit the Department of Justice and ultimately clear the way for Trump to halt the probe of Russian interference on his behalf.
This has not gone the exact way Ryan would have liked. In his perfect world, Republicans would run on tax cuts, carry out deep cuts to social insurance programs, and everyone in America would be devouring editorials from TheWall Street Journal. But political reality demands compromises. And those constraints have forced Ryan to choose what really matters to him: the protection of the makers from the predations of the takers.
Ryan isn’t a wonk, and doesn’t care about deficits; he cares about redistributing as much wealth upward as he can, and that’s it. The fact that McArdle is still trying to sell the imaginary “Paul Ryan” as the real one retires is just sad.
The punchline, of course, is that earlier this week McArdle argued that conservatives in media are what African-Americans were to Jim Crow. We could give this a detailed fisking, but really I think we can just hand it to Nolan and drop the mic:
The fact that Megan McArdle seems to have a secure job for life at the highest level of the elite media despite the quality of her work goes to show that the exclusion of conservatives is not as bad as she thinks.