Universal Translator

Thursday, May 26, 2011

What It Takes to be Considered "Serious" in Washington

The very first post I threw up on this site was about Paul Ryan’s budget.  I have to admit to a kind of horrified fascination with it.  Even in the beginning, when the Beltway cognoscenti were enthusing over how “mature” and “serious” the thing was, I was absolutely taken aback.

And this was for any number of reasons:  it doesn’t really balance the budget, not for decades; it envisions massive tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations, but doesn’t explain how this lost revenue will be made up (other than by some vague mouthing that unidentified “loopholes” will be closed); its numbers only come close to adding up if the U.S. achieves some never-before-seen unemployment rate of about 2.8%; it anticipates shrinking the federal budget to a portion of GDP not seen since before we had a standing military.  (And do you really think America is going to go back to not having a military?  Having a military is the one thing at which we are indisputably the world’s best).

But above all, the idea that Medicare should be eliminated entirely, and then replaced with $15,000 a year vouchers with which seniors (you know, the poor, the tired, the really sick) can fail to buy can attempt to buy private insurance (although we are still gonna call this bastard spawn of a GOP wet dream “medicare”) . . .   well that is truly revolting.  Not merely because the plan calls for nothing less than throwing our most vulnerable members to the howling wolf of inevitable human decay, which is bad enough, but because its proponents argue that doing so is nothing less than virtuous pragmatism.

The thinking appears to go something like this: 

            (1) providing a minimum social safety net for the most disadvantaged among us is something that the vast, vast majority of people in this country like (“keep the government out of my Medicare!”); but

            (2) increasingly expensive medical costs means that we are either going to have to roll back some of those tax cuts for the wealthy or else get very serious about limiting medical expenses (for example, by using the collective bargaining power of a single-payer system to demand cuts in the prices health care providers charge); but

            (3) both of these ideas are opposed by a small but very wealthy (and thus, very powerful) part of our population, and therefore all Serious People know that these solutions are “off the table”; which means that

            (4) since we aren’t allowed do anything to lower rising medical expenses, and since we aren’t allowed to collect enough money to pay for rising medical expenses, we can no longer afford to maintain that minimum social safety net that is so very popular with the American people; so therefore

            (5) we must get rid of Medicare because (under these self-imposed rules) we can’t pay for it; but since

            (6) Medicare is a very, very popular system – see No. 1, above – any proposal to eliminate it can be counted on to be very, very unpopular; now, therefore,

            CONCLUSION:   Since Paul Ryan has proposed eliminating Medicare in favor of even more tax cuts for the wealthy, he must be considered “politically courageous” and “very serious.”

Only in the bizarro realm that is American politics can an idea that is both inherently revolting and wildly unpopular be considered courageous and serious.  And yet, there it is.  But, to be sure, common sense and rationality must ultimately prevail, right?  Something this evil and ludicrous can’t continue to be taken seriously forever, can it?  I’ve gotta believe that. 


  1. So this is the stepping stone to a run for the presidency in 2016? The recent NY race that went to a Democrat who championed protecting Medicare suggests that, like Social Security, running against health care for seniors is, duh, not good for one's political health. A main reason why both Medicare and Social Security enjoy almost universal support, even among the young, is that working Americans who are struggling even now would be struggling still harder if they had sole responsibility for their parents' health care and finances. It is therefore wrong to think of these programs as only benefiting seniors. It is their children and grandchildren who are also being protected.

  2. Hey, I never said he would win the Presidency, or even the Repubican nomination, just that he would run.

    In a couple of recent interviews and other statements, Ryan appears to be doubling down on his pitch. He has accused Dems of being mean to him and of "mischaracterizing" his plan, and he has asserted that more American will rally behind it once it is explained to them more fully. Nothing seems to support this. (In his blog over at the Washtington Post, Ezra Klein did a masterful job last Friday of rebutting two of Ryan's main arguments in favor of killing off Medicare. I'd provide the link, but I'm typing this out via iPad and can't seem to cut 'n paste).

    It seems clear to me that Ryan really has drunk the Kool-Aid on this one, he really does believe the things he is saying. And certainly, until he had to start hearing from American voters and until he started getting serious pushback from Obama and the Democrats, why wouldn't he have. For reasons not entirely clear to me he is a Beltway media darling, and Beltway media is much more inclined to award him acclades than to check his math.

    In this he reminds me a little bit of Haley Barbour. Barbour, too, is a Beltway media favorite and Barbour, too, was widely considered by the Beltway medai to be credible candidate for the Presidency. And given that kind of feedback, I am sure that Barbour believed it too -- despite the fact you've got several generations of voting-age Americans who still remember The Dukes of Hazzard and only see Boss Hogg when they look at Haley Barbour.

    So Barbour planned to run for president, and went around to Iowa and - especially -- New Hampshire and discovered that his special inbred, good ol' boys backslapping bullshit didn't play well to all white folks. And Barbour dropped out. Why not? He is amazingly wealthy from his lobbying connections and still is something of a kingmaker in the GOP, so why go through the arduous and humiliating experience of running for president and failing spectacularly?

    I don't know if Paul Ryan will have a similar epiphany, and I think his situation differs from Barbour's. Ryan has not amassed the kind of fortune Barbour has, and Ryan doesn't appear to wield the same kind of power with the GOP either. Ryan is being advanced as the king himself, not as the eminence grise.

    Too, if the Republicans get significantly trounced in the 2012 election (and Paul Ryan has handed the Dems a weapon that can do just that, if they only have the fortitude to use it), I don't think you'll see much introspection or soul-searching among the Republicans. They will do what they did in 2008 and 2010, and what Ryan appears to be doing now: they will double down on the crazy.

    Which means continued backing of Paul Ryan by the GOP and the hardcore 27% of Americans that will support them no matter what, and continued fellating of Ryan by the Beltway Pundits. Sure, the Ryan Plan to Destroy Medicare has the vast potential to backfire and destory Republican electoral chances next year, but given the make up of the Republican party and the people who cover them I don't think that will significantly impact Ryan's decision to run.

  3. Oh, hey, here is the URL to that Ezra Klein post I mentioned earlier: