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In Politics, Motives Are Beside the Point

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I think that Chait and Yglesias have the appropriate response to McKay Coppins’s most recent extended tongue bathing of Paul Ryan. Coppins is rather more credulous about Ryan’s self-presentation than I would be, but who knows — maybe he’s right that Paul Ryan sincerely cares about poor people. What’s actually relevant, however, is that if enacted Ryan’s fiscal policies would involve devastating cuts to the safety net that would be disastrous for the lives of poor people. Precisely why Ryan prefers these horrible policies is not of any actual importance in evaluating him as a public official. Whether the analysis of the character of politicians by reporters is right or wrong, the more fundamental problem is that the theater critic approach to political analysis is worse than useless.

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