Just for fun we dug something out of the recycle pile. It was the recent bit where the Wisconsin State Journal talked to Congressman Paul Ryan.
We hadn’t intended to say anything about this. We have things to do — plastic bags to recycle, sew on a button, important stuff.
But then Paul Krugman reminded us on his blog of what a profoundly incompetent predictor of our economic future Mr. Ryan has been. Jiminy. Read Paul Ryan’s various doomsday predictions from the year 2009 and you’ll find his every single economic prediction turned out to be worthless. Everything. All of it. Wrong, wrong wrong.
Now getting stuff wrong should not be surprising for anyone who, like Ryan, has been in thrall to the crank economic philosophies of novelist Ayn Rand. For years, Ryan passed out Rand’s books to his Congressional staff, because he thought she was so insightful. He’d read her books in his formative years and was quite carried away, still into adulthood. And then, a few years ago, someone pointed out that Ayn Rand was an atheist! Somehow this had eluded Ryan, but ever since, in public, he’s been downplaying his schoolboy crush.
Of course, we might not care that Mr. Ryan got his misunderstanding of macroeconomics from an eccentric novelist if he were some ordinary guy, but alas, he’s chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, so he’s in precisely the spot to do real damage.
Paul Krugman, who is, um, an “actual economist” has for years been dismissing Mr. Ryan as con man and a flim-flam man, because Ryan’s “budgets” invariably have what Krugman calls “magic asterisks” where the savings are supposed to appear but are never specifically described. What’s more these “budgets” always seem to provide tax cuts for the rich, because that’s just common sense to Ryan. When pressed, Ryan will say his budgets are not really “budgets” so much as “roadmaps”, and indeed they have never been scored by the CBO. They can’t be, because of the magic asterisks.
Nonetheless, Ryan’s efforts are always well-received by the 1% and Republican lawmakers. And, we hafta say, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial page.
Back to Krugman:
So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.
Enter, the Wisconsin State Journal editorial board, for a sit-down interview with the Congressman Ryan. What a fruitless little affair. Ryan was treated like a politician on Meet the Press — a question is posed, the politician offers some words he’s been practicing in front of a mirror for months or years, and then the conversation moves on to the next question. It’s only meaningful to people fond of rating a politician’s acting chops.
Now, did we actually expect the fellows at the State Journal to do better than the current multi-millionaire anchorman hosting Meet the Press? No, we did not. And it didn’t happen. Wide swaths of our media fail us predictably, week in and week out, so expectations are what they deserve to be. We certainly didn’t expect the State Journal executives to joust with Ryan on the economy, for the first reason Krugman mentioned above — inability. And in truth, it would’ve been hard, because Ryan has been practicing in front of the mirror for years.
But even if questioning Ryan about economics was too hard for the State Journal executives, they could certainly have asked him about the “partisan politics” they so often decry on their editorial page. There is no trope more common in State Journal editorials than the call for bipartisan cooperation in Washington, a call that Mr. Ryan and his party never bothered to answer. Ryan and party instead raised the bar for intransigent partisanship, and all at a time (think global warming) when we really cannot afford to dither. Ryan and party cannot reliably fund Homeland Security. They cannot agree to do such obvious, and (you would think) non-controversial things as repair roads and bridges.
Surely the State Journal guys know about the now famous meeting on the night of Obama’s first inauguration. Republican leaders met at a tony D.C. steakhouse where they agreed in advance, simply as a self-serving partisan strategy, to oppose whatever Obama would seek to do. In their plan Obama would have no accomplishments to run on for a 2nd term. And whatever that meant for the American people was irrelevant. Surely the State Journal guys watched this strategy — a pure partisan strategy — play out over the next 7 years. And surely they knew that Paul Ryan was one of the small group settling on that strategy that night.
Fellas, you had him right there across the table.