Monday, August 13, 2012

Someone's Always Watching, Mr. Mulder

The above quote, from a first-season of the X-Files, should be the unofficial motto of the Internet age.  The recent, somewhat lamented end of the punditry career of Fareed Zakaria because he considered photocopying an art form, is a dull reminder that we no longer need to spend hours in the dim darkness of some library's periodical stacks to discover the many ways some writer thought it possible to pass something previously written by someone no doubt smarter and harder working as something original.

As with plagiarism, so, too, with the words and deeds of politicians.  Despite the attempt by so many to pretend that each day is new and fresh, the fact remains that it takes no effort at all to discover the many ways people seeking our votes are doing so by pretending they have sprouted from the head of Zeus, untouched by time or care.  Mitt Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate seems to be one of the few things Romney could have done as Republican candidate that would make Democrats happy.  Despite the accolades heaped upon Ryan by Republicans and conservatives, there was joy in Mudville's rival town because Mitty Casey had struck out with his VP pick.

I think there is nothing at all wrong with the fact that the majority of Americans have no idea who Ryan is.  Despite this blog's obsessions, I would not wish most Americans to have the kind of time or inclination to know the name and policy proposals of a seven-term back-bench Republican House member from southern Wisconsin (Janesville is not at all far from our former and current home; I first ate at a Noodles & Co. there on a trip to Madison).  All the same, it is easy as pie (a phrase much loved by my wife, who's pie-baking skills are legendary, yet thinks there is nothing special about them) to discover pretty much everything relevant about the young, handsome Randian disciple who has spent the vast bulk of his life sucking at the public teat for education and employment (yes, I'm going to point out this rather glaring bit of hypocrisy; like so many on the right, his life is an object lesson in not practicing all the things he demands others do to lead an exemplary life).

The really big deal, of course, is the so-called "Ryan Budget", which isn't an actual budget but rather a vague mix of ideological talking points, stump-speech pabulum about taxes and government spending, and empty promises called A Roadmap For America's Future (.pdf; the link is to the latest incarnation; I read the original, 2010 document last night, but a skimming read convinced me there really isn't much difference between them).  The first time Ryan sent this pile of words on paper to the House, there was much rejoicing because, as we heard far too often, his plan was bold, his plan was big, his plan was rooted in Big Ideas, his plan demanded Tough Choices.  Ryan quickly gained a reputation as "the intellectual leader" of the House Republicans, the Tea Party (who love Ryan with the kind of hot, sweaty love they seem to reserve for those who are only slightly less crazy than Steve King of Iowa).

Now, Ryan has a degree in Economics, that dismal science.  A Bachelor's degree, in fact, that he soon parlayed in to staff work for various conservative Congress-folk and right-wing "think tanks".  That he has that degree, for some reason, intimidated many from actually looking at his proposals (he did have the Congressional Budget Office score his original plan, but only for the proposed, general, cuts in spending, and they came out and said he would halve the budget deficit by 2020, and there was much rejoicing;  that he was disingenuous enough not to include the massive restructuring of our federal income tax structure into a redistributive windfall for the wealthy was little noted by all those who insisted he was a deficit hawk).  Yet, as Paul Krugman said of Newt Gingrich, that he was a stupid person's idea of a smart person, Paul Ryan is a stupid non-economically literate person's idea of an economist.  Krugman famously did something real economists do, and did some math using Ryan's proposals and announced that a plan called "audacious" by its supporters was, in fact, in Krugman's marvelous phrase, "the audacity of dopes."

When The Washington Post gave Rep. Ryan some space to answer Krugman's column, another real economist, Dean Baker, who writes at the website for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, went through Ryan's op-ed line by line.  While Baker insists that he is "having fun" with Ryan, he ends his own take-down with a line that should be seared in the foreheads of every single political reporter: "[T]o the seniors who would be unable to afford decent health care if Mr. Ryan's plan became law, his sincerity won't make any difference."

Ryan may be a man of ideas.  He may be a real intellectual.  He may sincerely and earnestly believe what he is doing is what's best for the country.  Those who cover him and his work may sincerely and earnestly believe he believes that.  None of them, however, seem to notice that public policy decisions have real world consequences; many of the policy proposals and actions the Republicans in office have made over the past few decades have had horrible consequences for millions of people.

Before I close, I think it worth noting that the above-linked second edition of "the Ryan Budget" was not greeted with enthusiasm by the Republican Party.  They knew it was dead in the water.  They knew it didn't even have the virtues of blue smoke and mirrors needed to cloud the minds of political reporters.  While touted by many who should know better and quite a few who didn't take the few minutes necessary to discover the truth as someone willing to make "tough choices", in fact, other than destroying Medicare and making sure the middle class support the rich through the tax code, Ryan has yet to specify a single program anywhere in the budget that he would actually cut.  He insisted his would not be across the board sequestration.  Yet he has not said, "Well, I'll get rid of Pell Grants and the F-35 Fighter and the National Park Service."  Because Ryan is many things, but he is neither an economist nor a particularly brave or daring soul.  In fact, he's a bit gutless, whining about how mean Pres. Obama was when the President pointed out that Ryan's proposed wardrobe for the Republican Emperor was empty.

I know there are many on the right who swoon at his smile, those big, deep-set steely blues capturing their hearts.  That's fine; he wouldn't be on the ticket if this weren't true.  All the same, many if not most Democrats are celebrating Mitt's pick.   Despite, and because, Ryan is an unknown quantity for most voters, he has a vast record available to mine for all sorts of nuggets.  This same information, lucky for us, is now available for all to see.  Ezra Klein managed to create a one-stop-shopping spot for all things Paul Ryan.

Remember, someone is, indeed, always watching.

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