Apr 15

Not A Rant

Been a busy week. Remember this? This was Wednesday.

Time flies and all.

The Paul Ryan Story: From Flimflam to Fascism
By Paul Krugman, The New York Times
April 12, 2018

I do have some insight into how Ryan — who has always been an obvious con man, to anyone willing to see — came to become speaker of the House. And that’s a story that reflects badly not just on Ryan himself, not just on his party, but also on self-proclaimed centrists and the news media, who boosted his career through their malfeasance. Furthermore, the forces that brought Ryan to a position of power are the same forces that have brought America to the edge of a constitutional crisis.

Even now, in this age of Trump, there are a substantial number of opinion leaders — especially, but not only, in the news media — whose careers, whose professional brands, rest on the notion that they stand above the political fray. For such people, asserting that both sides have a point, that there are serious, honest people on both left and right, practically defines their identity.

Yet the reality of 21st-century U.S. politics is one of asymmetric polarization in many dimensions. One of these dimensions is intellectual: While there are some serious, honest conservative thinkers, they have no influence on the modern Republican Party. What’s a centrist to do?

The answer, all too often, has involved what we might call motivated gullibility. Centrists who couldn’t find real examples of serious, honest conservatives lavished praise on politicians who played that role on TV. Paul Ryan wasn’t actually very good at faking it; true fiscal experts ridiculed his “mystery meat” budgets. But never mind: The narrative required that the character Ryan played exist, so everyone pretended that he was the genuine article.

And let me say that the same bothsidesism that turned Ryan into a fiscal hero played a crucial role in the election of Donald Trump. How did the most corrupt presidential candidate in American history eke out an Electoral College victory? There were many factors, any one of which could have turned the tide in a close election. But it wouldn’t have been close if much of the news media hadn’t engaged in an orgy of false equivalence.

A scam of a party says goodbye to its top fraud
by Paul Waldman, Washington Post
April 11

For years, Ryan has presented himself as someone deeply concerned with fiscal discipline, committed to getting America’s books in order. As anyone with any sense realized, this was a scam: Like all Republicans, he used the deficit as a bludgeon against Democratic presidents, then forgot all about it while a Republican was in office.

At the same time, Ryan — a lifelong admirer of Ayn Rand, the philosopher of selfishness — dreamed of destroying the safety net, eviscerating Medicaid, privatizing Medicare, slashing food stamps, and generally making life in America more cruel and unpleasant for all those who aren’t wealthy.

But as Paul Krugman observed, Ryan failed at both his pretend goal and his real goal. He will leave office after setting the deficit on a path to exceed $1 trillion in 2020, and yet, he failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and didn’t even bother to wage an assault on Medicare, almost certainly because he knew how disastrous it would be for his party.

And so it is for the GOP as a whole. Not that they don’t have some other things they’re hoping for, and that the Trump administration is working to carry out. For instance, they’re gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, completely stopping enforcement of rules meant to protect consumers from rapacious financial corporations, attacking reproductive rights and bringing back the war on drugs. But when it comes to legislation, the Republicans’ time in power has pretty much consisted of trying and failing to repeal the ACA, cutting taxes, and calling it a day. They waited ten years for this opportunity, since the Democrats took control of Congress in the 2006 elections, and that’s all they could come up with. They’ve made quite clear there will be no more major legislation between now and November’s midterms. And if they lose the House (and perhaps the Senate), there will be no more at all.

Conservatives will have a few things to show for this period of absolute control of the federal government, especially a large group of federal judges President Trump has appointed. But given how high their hopes were for a legislative revolution, it’s a pathetic record. Don’t forget that all during 2016, Republicans — none more so than Ryan — said that despite the fact that their voters nominated a vulgar, infantile, corrupt buffoon to lead their party, they simply had to stand by him because they wanted the chance to pass all that conservative legislation and have it signed by a Republican president.

But now that corporations got their tax cut, it was all worth it, right?

Paul Ryan was always a fraud. He pretended to be a wonk’s wonk, but his budget and policy plans were full of sleight-of-hand and magic asterisks that fell apart on the most superficial examination. He pretended to be terribly worried about the deficit, but he happily jacked it up when he got the chance. He pretended to care deeply about the poor, but would have made their lives impossibly more miserable had doing so been politically tenable.

And he pretended to be scandalized by Trump’s repugnant words and actions but, after a few regretful words and a furrowing of his brow, would always go right back to supporting the president. So while he will surely be remembered as one of the least effective speakers we’ve ever had, you can’t say Ryan didn’t faithfully represent his party.

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