Ross Douthat accomplishes the impossible in an op-ed piece published by the New York Times this morning, assigning to Paul Ryan a set of mutually incompatible traits with a goal of making the extremist ideologue more palatable to moderates:
Paul Ryan is not a moderate, not a centrist, and certainly not a perfectly neutral non-ideological number-crunching budget wonk. He is a conservative whose fiscal blueprints and budgets are drawn up with conservative goals uppermost in mind. He’s a Reaganite pro-life hawkish supply-sider who wants limited government and the lowest possible tax burden. Out of all the running mates available, Mitt Romney chose one of the most explicitly ideological options.
Sorry to say, while Ryan is an “explicitly ideological option,” you can’t be Reaganite if you want limited government. One thing Reagan most assuredly not do is give America limited government. On the contrary, he expanded it. And lowest tax burden? Yes, Reagan did lower taxes; then he raised them, and raised them again. And again.
Douthat rolls out the following astounding claim:
But moderates — and maybe, just maybe, the occasional liberal as well — should appreciate Ryan all the same, because he’s almost single-handedly responsible for saving the Republican Party from some of its own worst impulses.
Some would say that Ryan represents the Republican Party’s own worst impulses. He supported the infamous “Let Women Die Act” after all. Most of us would call letting women die a worst impulse. Most of us would find fault with the idea that narcissism is a social virtue.
Maureen Dowd makes an eloquent claim to that effect (“When Cruelty is Cute“) in the same issue of The Times. As Dowd puts it: “Ryan is not going to raise our hopes only to dash them. Unlike W., he’s not even going to make a feint at ‘compassionate conservatism.’ Why bother with some silly scruple or toehold of conscience?”
MoveOn.org offers some compelling evidence as well in “10 Things the Romney Campaign Doesn’t Want You to Know About Paul Ryan“:
1. His economic plan would cost America 1 million jobs in the first year. Ryan’s proposed budget would cripple the economy. He’d slash spending deeply, which would not only slow job growth, but shock the economy and cost 1 million of us our jobs in 2013 alone and kill more than 4 million jobs by the end of 2014.1
2. He’d kill Medicare. He’d replace Medicare with vouchers for retirees to purchase insurance, eliminating the guarantee of health care for seniors and putting them at the mercy of the private insurance industry. That could amount to a cost increase of more than $5,900 by 2050, leaving many seniors broke or without the health care they need. He’d also raise the age of eligibility to 67.2
3. He’d pickpocket the middle class to line the pockets of the rich. His tax plan is Robin Hood in reverse. He wants to cut taxes by $4.6 trillion over the next decade, but only for corporations and the rich, like giving families earning more than $1 million a year a $300,000 tax cut. And to pay for them, he’d raise taxes on middle- and lower-income households and butcher social service programs that help middle- and working-class Americans.3
4. He’s an anti-choice extremist. Ryan co-sponsored an extremist anti-choice bill, nicknamed the ‘Let Women Die Act,’ that would have allowed hospitals to deny women emergency abortion care even if their lives were at risk. And he co-sponsored another bill that would criminalize some forms of birth control, all abortions, and in vitro fertilization.4
5. He’d dismantle Social Security. Ironically, Ryan used the Social Security Survivors benefit to help pay for college, but he wants to take that possibility away from future generations. He agrees with Rick Perry’s view that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme” and he supported George W. Bush’s disastrous proposal to privatize Social Security.5
6. He’d eliminate Pell grants for more than 1 million low-income students. His budget plan cuts the Pell Grant program by $200 billion, which could mean a loss of educational funding for 1 million low-income students.6
7. He’d give $40 billion in subsidies to Big Oil. His budget includes oil tax breaks worth $40 billion, while cutting “billions of dollars from investments to develop alternative fuels and clean energy technologies that would serve as substitutes for oil.”7
8. He’s another Koch-head politician. Not surprisingly, the billionaire oil-baron Koch brothers are some of Ryan’s biggest political contributors. And their company, Koch industries, is Ryan’s biggest energy-related donor. The company’s PAC and affiliated individuals have given him $65,500 in donations.8
9. He opposes gay rights. Ryan has an abysmal voting record on gay rights. He’s voted to ban adoption by gay couples, against same-sex marriage, and against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He also voted against the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009.9
10. He thinks an “I got mine, who cares if you’re okay” philosophy is admirable. For many years, Paul Ryan devoted himself to Ayn Rand’s philosophy of selfishness as a virtue. It has shaped his entire ethic about whom he serves in public office. He even went as far as making his interns read her work.10
Yet despite all the evidence (which he apparently doesn’t want you to know either), Douthat claims that “an honest assessment of Ryan’s record requires acknowledging that he’s made his own party substantially more responsible and rigorous, while also challenging some of the self-deceptions that are endemic on the Democratic side of the aisle. (Of the deep cuts the Ryan budget makes in order to bring the budget into balance, only a small fraction could be offset by repealing George W. Bush’s tax cuts for the rich, the usual liberal answer to deficit reduction.)”
Douthat’s position is not an “honest assessment at all”; it is what it usually is: ignore the evidence least congenial to your argument and present the rest in the interest of “clarifying” the picture. Ironically, Douthat praises Ryan for his willingness ”to take the plunge into specificity” while studiously avoiding specificity himself.
Yes, the picture gets quite clear once you remove all the details. “Responsible” and “rigorous” are interesting adjectives but adjectives that require those missing details if we’re going to know what they mean here. If by this Douthat means that Ryan has made the GOP more rigidly orthodox and ideological then yes, he is right. But making the GOP more rigidly orthodox and ideology is hardly saving it from itself; it already had those tendencies in abundance.
But it’s nothing less than dishonest to present Ryan as a budget hawk when he throws wads of our money at oil companies so they can further enrich themselves by gouging us at the pump, or when he votes to spend billions of our dollars on an unfunded war, or lower his own taxes while raising ours to “invest more in upward mobility for the down-and-out” (apparently a Douthatism for shipping jobs overseas). The historical record shows that Republicans are bigger spenders than Democrats, a fact entirely contrary to the lie Republicans tell of themselves, a fact supported by Ryan’s own voting record.
Do not pretend that this is about spending: this is about a would-be right wing social engineer trying to reinvent government in Ayn Rand’s image. Facts do matter, all facts, and not only those most congenial to your preconceived notions, Mr. Douthat.
1. “Ryan’s Budget, Robin Hood in reverse,” Economic Policy Institute
2. “12 Things You Should Know About Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan,” Think Progress, August 11, 2012
3. “Ryan Budget Would Raise Some Taxes; Guess Who Gets Hit?,” Off the Charts, April 12, 2012
“Middle class could face higher taxes under Republican plan, analysis finds,” The Washington Post, June 19, 2012
4. “Statement on Mitt Romney’s Selection of Rep. Paul Ryan for His Vice-Presidential Running Mate,” NARAL, August 11, 2012
“Paul Ryan’s Extreme Abortion Views,” The Daily Beast, August 11, 2012
“Paul Ryan Sponsored Fetal Personhood Bill, Opposes Family Planning Funds,” Huffington Post, August 11, 2012
5. “12 Things You Should Know About Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan,” Think Progress, August 11, 2012
“Ayn Rand would have HATED Paul Ryan,” Daily Kos, August 12, 2012
6. “Pell Grants For Poor Students Lose $170 Billion In Ryan Budget,” Huffington Post, March 27, 2012
7. “Ryan Budget Pads Big Oil’s Pockets with Senseless Subsidies,” Center for American Progress, March 20, 2012
8. “Koch brothers have Paul Ryan’s back,” Politico, August 11, 2012
9. “Paul Ryan as VP Matches Mitt Romney on Homophobia,” The Advocate, August 11, 2012
10. “Paul Ryan And Ayn Rand”, The New Republic, December 28, 2010