David Brooks says Paul Ryan just isn’t being realistic on the economy:
Ryan said that it was silly to come up with a debt-reduction proposal that didn’t fix the single biggest driver of the nation’s debt.
This is the sort of argument that makes a lot of sense in a think-tank auditorium. The problem was there were almost no Democrats who endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform ideas. If Ryan was going to pinion debt reduction to Medicare reform, that meant there would be no debt reduction.
But Ryan had another way forward, noting: We’re going to have an election in 2012; the country will choose between two different visions; if we Republicans win, we’ll be able to reform Medicare our way and reduce the debt our way.
In other words, Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.
In order to get this ultimate solution, though, Ryan was betting that three things would happen. First, he was betting that Republicans would beat Obama. Second, he was betting that Republicans would win such overwhelming congressional majorities that they would be able to push through measures Democrats hate. Third, he was betting that a group of Republican politicians would unilaterally slash one of the country’s most popular programs and that they would be able to sustain these cuts through the ensuing elections, in the face of ferocious and highly popular Democratic opposition.
To put it another way, Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy.
. . .
It’s obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they’ll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s almost entirely make-believe.
This claim is amply refuted by a famous pundit who said the opposite in April 2011. And you’ll never guess who it is. Oh, right. You read the headline. OK, it’s David Brooks:
Over the past few weeks, a number of groups, including the ex-chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers and 64 prominent budget experts, have issued letters arguing that the debt situation is so dire that doing nothing is not a survivable option. What they lacked was courageous political leadership — a powerful elected official willing to issue a proposal, willing to take a stand, willing to face the political perils.
The country lacked that leadership until today. Today, Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes. Ryan is expected to leap into the vacuum left by the president’s passivity. The Ryan budget will not be enacted this year, but it will immediately reframe the domestic policy debate.
His proposal will set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion. It will become the 2012 Republican platform, no matter who is the nominee. Any candidate hoping to win that nomination will have to be able to talk about government programs with this degree of specificity, so it will improve the G.O.P. primary race.
The Ryan proposal will help settle the fight over the government shutdown and the 2011 budget because it will remind everybody that the real argument is not about cutting a few billion here or there. It is about the underlying architecture of domestic programs in 2012 and beyond.
The Ryan budget will put all future arguments in the proper context: The current welfare state is simply unsustainable and anybody who is serious, on left or right, has to have a new vision of the social contract.
. . . .
It also creates the pivotal moment of truth for President Obama. Will he come up with his own counterproposal, or will he simply demagogue the issue by railing against “savage” Republican cuts and ignoring the long-term fiscal realities? Does he have a sustainable vision for government, or will he just try to rise above the fray while Nancy Pelosi and others attack Ryan?
And what about the Senate Republicans? Where do they stand? Or the voters? Are they willing to face reality or will they continue to demand more government than they are willing to pay for?
Paul Ryan has grasped reality with both hands. He’s forcing everybody else to do the same.
Of course, if they don’t — if they run from reality and demagogue the issue — Brooks will be there in another 16 months or so to blame it all on Ryan.
What could have changed between April 2011 and now? I’ll tell you: Paul Ryan is now the GOP nominee for the vice presidency. And while it might be OK to pretend to be a conservative every so often just to maintain a facade, it simply won’t do to actually praise a VP candidate for courage at the moment it matters most. To do so would be . . . gauche. People would turn away at the New York Times water cooler.
Or maybe the crease in Paul Ryan’s trousers has simply become less sharp in the last 16 months.
Thanks to Milhouse.