Wanted: Reasonable Republicans:
On Ryan Apologists, by Paul Krugman: ...the continuing defense of Paul Ryan is a remarkable phenomenon. He’s still being treated by many pundits as a man deeply concerned about deficits, when the fact is that his policy proposals are all about redistributing income upward, and make no serious effort to curb debt. He’s even given credit for advocating higher taxes on the rich when he has more or less specifically rejected the things for which he’s given credit.
What’s going on here? The defenders of Ryan come, I’d argue, in two types.
One type is the pseudo-reasonable apparatchik. There are a fair number of pundits who make a big show of debating the issues, stroking their chins, and then — invariably — find a way to support whatever the GOP line may be. There’s no mystery in their support for Ryan.
The other type is more interesting: the professional centrist. These are people whose whole pose is one of standing between the extremes of both parties, and calling for a bipartisan solution. The problem they face is how to maintain this pose when the reality is that a quite moderate Democratic party — one that is content to leave tax rates on the rich far below those that prevailed for most of the past 70 years, that has embraced a Republican health care plan — faces a radical-reactionary GOP.
What these people need is reasonable Republicans. And if such creatures don’t exist, they have to invent them. Hence the elevation of Ryan — who is, in fact, a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style — to icon of fiscal responsibility and honest argument, despite the reality that his proposals are both fiscally irresponsible and quite dishonest.
How much longer can this last? I guess we’ll eventually find out.
Paul Krugman may be hesitant to mention David Brooks as one of the biggest chin-stroking offenders here, but I'm not. Brooks writes an entire column wondering if there is room in the Republican party for moderates -- how they are fleeing a party of extremists -- only to follow it up with a column treating Ryan as someone with ideas that deserve serious attention. Ryan is portrayed by Brooks and others as a moderate rather than an extremist who is helping to push the party far, far to the right. As Krugman says there is a need to invent moderates that don't exist as foil for Obama, including portraying the Ryan budget as a reasonable alternative. However, Krugman was right to when he said the Ryan budget is "nonsense" shortly after it came out (and the updated version of his budget is little better):
it’s really time to stop pretending that the Ryan plan is an intellectually sound expression of a philosophical viewpoint. Even from its own ideological perspective, it’s a piece of incompetent junk; all you had to do was spend a little while poking through the assumptions, and it became clear that it was nonsense. I know this is a hard thing for people who gushed about the plan to accept, but it’s the simple truth.
The "people who gushed about the plan" include Brooks, and it's a lot easier for Brooks to dig in his heels and defend the Ryan plan rather than admitting his initial take on the Ryan budget gave it far more credibility than it deserved, i.e. that he was wrong:
When the gaping holes in the Ryan plan were revealed, I expected the Very Serious People to move on and find a new GOP daddy to idolize. Instead, however, they’ve mostly dug in, condemning anyone who points out that the plan is a piece of junk as being somehow out of bounds.
Finally, this is not what social Darwinism means in the modern context, and Brooks should know better (see here), but nevertheless Brooks makes a claim that allows him to justify the bile that Republicans routinely spew by creating a false equivalency that Obama does it too (one of his specialties):
Obama ... unleashed every 1980s liberal cliché..., calling the Republicans a bunch of trickle-down, Trojan horse-bearing social Darwinists. Social Darwinism, by the way, was a 19th-century philosophy that held, in part, that Aryans and Northern Europeans are racially superior to brown and Mediterranean peoples.
Obama was not saying this, but with the recent comments from the NRO's John Derbyshire, perhaps he should have.