Friday, December 04, 2015

A Big Vision of Small-Mindedness

by Neil H. Buchanan

I have frequently commented on situations in which the press writes pieces using words like "bold" and "serious" and "leadership" to describe Republican politicians' views and proposals that are anything but bold or serious, and that show no leadership.  My attacks are usually aimed at The New York Times (see, e.g., this recent Dorf on Law post), which is certainly not the worst culprit in this regard, but because The Times is the most important news source in the world, it matters when it gives someone a free pass.

Happily, the Times assigned arguably their best reporter, David M. Herszenhorn, to write an article summarizing a speech that the new House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered earlier this week.  Although the headline for the article, "Ryan Throws Down Republican Gauntlet in Outlining House Agenda for ’16," is a bit grandiose, headlines are generally not written by the reporter, and in any case it is reasonably accurate to say that Ryan really was doing something along the lines of making a statement about how the Republicans plan to challenge Democrats between now and Election Day.

The short summary of the article on the main page of The Times website reads as follows: "Drawing a vivid contrast with Democrats and the Obama administration, Paul Ryan, the new speaker of the House, vowed to pursue legislation that will frame a stark choice for voters next year."  But what is most interesting about Herszenhorn's article is that, although he appropriately describes Ryan's apparent intent, the report of what Ryan actually said reveals that there is nothing at all specific or memorable about it.  "Our No. 1 goal for the next year is to put together a complete alternative to the left’s agenda."  OK, no surprise there.  "Only government that sends power back to the people can make America confident again."  This is notable, if at all, only because it represents another attempt by right-wingers to adopt rhetoric from the 1960's left ("Power to the people!").  Otherwise, any politician of any stripe might utter such a statement.  No big contrast between Republicans and Democrats is yet in sight.

We must take Herszenhorn at his word when he describes the speech's "sweeping oratory and careful stagecraft."  The more interesting issue is that, although "it was clear Mr. Ryan was aiming to step decisively into the role of the Republican Party’s leader in Washington," Ryan apparently decided that being his party's leader involves little more than sniping and repeating vague policy goals that are familiar to anyone who has been following his strange path to being the closest thing the Republicans have to a big thinker (notwithstanding his very small thoughts)

Ryan promised to "give the people a real choice" and "show what we would do, what our ideal policy would be," yet Herszenhorn then notes that Ryan "offered few specifics."  Later, the article notes that the speech "was designed less to lay out specific policy proposals than to chart a flight path for House Republicans for the remainder of Mr. Obama’s presidency."  Surprised?

Here are the issues that Ryan addressed: "a sweeping overhaul of the tax code," "develop[ing] trade agreements that would benefit American manufacturers," and "strengthen[ing] the military, particularly given the rising threat from the Islamic State."  Without details, however, there is nothing bold there.  What Democrat would say that those are bad goals?

Other than making snarky remarks about President Obama -- essentially exulting in the Republicans' success in dividing the country, and then blaming it on the president -- the closest Ryan came to saying something that people might actually disagree with is that "Government is always a step behind."  That, however, is warmed-over Reagan rhetoric, not the stuff of a grand policy speech.

But perhaps the most interesting insight into Ryan's strange view of his own policy agenda came when he said that Republicans "believe in the American idea: The condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life."  Let us leave aside for now the Republicans' insistence that the American idea only applies to current Americans, rather than being a beacon for, say, people who suffer under tyranny and terror elsewhere and yearn to breathe free.  Even looking at current Americans and their children and grandchildren, for the leader of the party that has spent a generation trying to repeal the estate tax (the "death tax" -- in their constantly repeated mischaracterization) to say that they stand for the idea of equal opportunity at birth is jaw-dropping.

Ryan's party has been committed to making sure that the condition of one's birth, such as being born into poverty or with parents who cannot take care of their children, can never be overcome.  Ryan's infatuation with "dependency theory," which says that people are lulled into dependency when they receive handouts rather than being forced to work hard like Real Americans, has been used to justify cuts in nearly every program in existence that actually tries to allow people to overcome the conditions of their birth.  Children's health insurance, Head Start, food stamps, and on and on.  The problem with dependency theory (or, I should say, one of the many problems with that theory) is that the harsh effort to make adults sink or swim has effects on children who have no control over what their parents do.  And then, when those children grow up to become less productive than they could have been, they are blamed for being defective adults.

In what is surely the most inadvertently funny thing that Ryan has ever said, he assured his listeners that Republicans "do not see politics as a popularity contest. To us, it is a calling. We do not care for the tricks of the trade. What we love are ideas.”  Yes, they love ideas.  Bad ideas.  Bad, failed ideas.  Bad, failed ideas that are especially likely to harm children and to reinforce class divisions.

13 comments:

Shag from Brookline said...

Speaker Ryan's sprouting facial hairs may make him appear "bold," "serious" and demonstrates "leadership" to overcome his boyishness, at least visually. But content is what counts. I wonder, who gave him this grooming idea? Maybe I should just shrug it off.

CJColucci said...

Are most voters too young to notice Ryan's resemblance to Eddie Haskell?

Shag from Brookline said...

CJC: check out Paul Ryan: Pop Doofus at:

http://www.salon.com/2012/09/12/paul_ryan_pop_doofus/

Maybe this is behind his new facial grooming. But the Eddie Munster "widow's peak" remains in view. Also, recall his "pumping iron" photo that made the rounds in the 2012 campaign. When Mr. Speaker is banging the gavel at House sessions, he must appear bold and serious as the House's leading Republican. When he is addressed from the floor, Reps. must keep a straight face.

David Ricardo said...

The charlatan known as Paul Ryan has been fooling the media for a long time. But to anyone who has the slightest knowledge of his so-called fiscal expertise, his speech was just another in the long line of platitudes and generalizations. His tax reform programs never have any specifics, his revenue projections depend upon delusions of a magic growth formula, his entitlement reforms never make sense or add up and his government spending cuts are always the ‘player to be named later’.

That the media is still buying this is the only thing that is really sustainable. The media can be fooled for a long time. When he actually has to act as a leader, actually make decisions, actually has to reveal his shortcomings, actually has to identify tax changes and spending cuts, well he ends up in the Smithsonian as the “Empty Suit” exhibit.

Never has any individual in government risen so high on so little accomplishments. Disagree? Name one thing Mr. Ryan has accomplished other than promoting Mr. Ryan.

Shag from Brookline said...

He heavily promoted the influence of Ayn Rand and her Atlas Shrugged on his "successes," providing gifts of her book to staff. But when the public got to understand that Ayn Rand was more of a libertine than a libertarian, he pulled back. Paul Krugman continues to pull back the curtain on the real Paul Ryan to expose his faux economics.

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Joe said...

The idea birth control and Planned Parenthood is now a major dividing line is a sign to me personally their party is in trouble in the realm of sanity.

I fail to see how something like that is productive long term pragmatically either. They have some success using "religious liberty" in the first case and pushing the idea that "abortion" is really at issue though the upcoming Supreme Court case shows even beyond their fraudulent use of that term as applied to IUDS, it isn't limited to that. Seems this is the outer limits of small mindedness akin to how even Republicans are starting to recognize same sex marriage is acceptable.

Shag from Brookline said...

Ted Cruz got some attention on birth control recently with his reminder on his college days putting coins (50 cents?) in a machine in the men's room dispensing condoms, noting in the manner of a master debater that there is no rubber shortage. Of course, that puts the power in the hands of the male, with a not so reliable form of birth control. Cruz well knows that birth control methods employed by the female sex partner are more assuring to the latter seeking to avoid a trojan horse. He made it a point to let his audience know, demonstrated by his lovely wife and their two daughters, he enjoys sex. But I don't recall his saying whether or not his wife uses birth control methods or if she relies upon his confidence in rubber. (The owners of Hobby Lobby did not object to all forms of birth control.)

David Ricardo said...

As Shag reminds us, the current Speaker of the House has his political philosophy and view of the world derived from FICTION (and pretty awful fiction as anyone who has had the fortitude to read Ayn Rand must acknowledge). Kinda says it all, doesn't it.

Joe said...

http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/zubik-v-burwell/

The next set of cases after Hobby Lobby includes groups with a general opposition to birth control. The cases involve "religious nonprofits" including when paying for non-believing employees (such as cleaning staff), but Hobby Lobby didn't merely turn on them only opposing a few versions of birth control at any rate.

David Ricardo said...

'trojan horse' - Seriously?

Shag from Brookline said...

Is "pony" more PC? I gave some thought to adapting "where the rubber meets the road" but that was a dead ender. But Cruz's TX roots (post-Canada) I would have pictured him a macho bareback rider, e.g., TX Longhorns type.

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