Just how 'brave, radical, and smart' is the Ryan budget?
- A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel.
- - Robert Frost
It’s a truism that conservatives are tougher than liberals. It’s also true. But the odd thing about this phenomenon is that while right-wingers are, indeed, tougher, nastier, and more dedicated to achieving their appointed tasks than their liberal counterparts, they get a great deal of help from members of the so-called liberal media who are always praising their courage—which is usually mustered to find a new way to screw the poor and middle class on behalf of the wealthy.
Consider Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget plan. The New York Times's David Brooks, who stands anointed as the most influential pundit of the Obama era, and is frequently accepting kudos for his refusal to kowtow to conservative dogma, pronounced that the document “set the standard of seriousness for anybody who wants to play in this discussion...This budget tackles just about every politically risky issue with brio and guts...Paul Ryan has grasped reality with both hands. He’s forcing everybody else to do the same.”
Joe Scarborough treated the document similarly. Scarborough is a former Republican congressman who is treated to 15 hours of programming each week on MSNBC, the cable network that allegedly offsets the rabidly right-wing Fox. At the end of his program, his executive producer, Chris Licht, said in Scarborough's earpiece of Ryan, "I'm in love." The New York Times''s Andrew Ross Sorkin was also impressed. He responded: "Give the man credit for putting out a plan, when no one else would, frankly." And Mika Brzezinski, who is supposed to be the liberal on this (liberal network) program, told Ryan, "I've always said, I really like him.”
Weirdest of all, perhaps, was the confused cheerleading offered up by Slate’s Jacob Weisberg under the headline “Good Plan!” followed by the adjectives “brave, radical, and smart.” Generously granting that “Democrats are within their rights to point out the negative effects of Ryan's proposed cuts on future retirees, working families, and the poor,” along with the fact that Ryan “was not specific about many of his cuts,” he nevertheless thinks liberals should embrace the plan because “it’s hard to make a principled liberal case for the program [Medicare] in its current form.”
To which one can only respond with: “Say what?” Does Weisberg really think that the problem with liberals these days is that they don’t pay enough attention to principle? Are Koch-backed conservatives with money flowing through a post-Citzens United political landscape like a tsunami beating liberals because the latter are insufficiently principled? Is Weisberg living on the same planet as the rest of us?
This is an old problem. Weisberg is an alumnus of The New Republic, which his old boss, Mike Kinsley, used to joke ought to have been renamed “Even the New Republic…” because it was always endorsing right-wing Reaganite programs while pretending to speak for liberals. Weisberg has done his old colleagues like Charles Krauthammer, Fred Barnes, and Morton Kondracke one better here, however, by getting on board with a plan so heartless toward the poor and indigent that even Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush never dared propose anything like it.
Weisberg appears to know a bit of this. He admits that the “brave, radical, and smart” plan he so admires is full of “sleight-of-hand tricks” and would not actually come close to eliminating the deficit in the coming decade, “leaving $400 billion in annual deficits as far as the eye can see.”
Weisberg attributes this to yet another massive tax cut for the wealthy, a goal he endorses, though he does not go quite as far as Ryan in calling for a top rate of 25 percent. Apparently the fact that the United States has just experienced 40 years of purposeful transfer of wealth from working stiffs to the extremely wealthy—the share of total wealth for the top 1 percent has increased from 8 percent during the 1960s to more than 20 percent in 2011 with wages for the average worker remaining flat during that period— is insufficient.
So too, the fact, that, as Jesse Drucker reports in Bloomberg-Business Week:
For the 400 U.S. taxpayers with the highest adjusted gross income, the effective federal income tax rate fell from almost 30 percent in 1995 to just under 17 percent in 2007, according to the IRS. And for the approximately 1.4 million people who make up the top 1 percent of taxpayers, the effective federal income tax rate dropped from 29 percent to 23 percent in 2008. It may seem too fantastic to be true, but the top 400 end up paying a lower rate than the next 1,399,600 or so.
Yet for an "Even the New Republic" liberal like Slate's Weisberg, this is insufficiently generous to the extremely wealthy. Together with Ryan, he thinks they need more.
And he recognizes even more evasions in the “brave, radical, and smart” plan, including Rep. Ryan’s refusal to spell out the cuts in domestic programs he assumes will be achieved through “caps,” as well as “which deductions and tax subsidies he'd eliminate to pay for these lower rates.” What’s more, his economic projections are a “a supply-side fantasy. His anti-bailout rhetoric is silly pandering,” but, one presumes, “brave, radical, and smart” fantasizing and pandering.
Here are some more “brave, radical, and smart” details of the plan Weisberg presumably did not have room to praise:
In fact, the only real value of Rep. Ryan’s plan is that, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s assault on the right of public workers to bargain collectively, it clarifies the long-term agenda of the conservative class war that right-wing intellectuals and operatives have been planning and waging against poor and middle-class Americans for nearly half a century now. That the mainstream media is peopled with so many influential “liberals” willing to call this agenda “brave, radical, and smart” and instruct genuine liberals to endorse it on principle tells us a great deal about why this vicious assault on what was once the American social compact has been so successful so far.
This article was published by the Center for American Progress.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a columnist for The Nation, Moment, and The Daily Beast. His newest book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama.