Well, I knew sooner or later something would come around that would kick me out of my self -imposed blogging vacation. Leave it to Paul Ryan to do that.
OK, I can hear you groaning about Ryan fatigue already so I’m going to keep this mercifully short. Mostly I want to pass on a couple of posts that I found relevant over the weekend and needlessly add a bit of opinion.
You don’t need me to help you find the Left’s response. If you want to save yourself a bunch of skipping around just go to Ezra Klein’s blog. He was out with so much so fast after the announcement that I almost believe he has a mole inside the Romney campaign that tipped him off. You will find all of the DNC talking points within his most recent posts.
On the right, I suggest Keith Hennessey’s comments, mostly because he’s a numbers type of guy. His latest post is as you would guess highly supportive of Romney’s pick of Ryan. If you visit it take the time to click through to the two previous posts he cites that graphically illustrate the difference between the President’s budget and Ryan’s.
Now if you decide you’ve had quite enough of partisanship and would like to read something a bit more thoughtful, I have two recommendations. One is an older post and one is new.
The old post goes back to April of 2011. It’s by Megan McArdle and represented her first thoughts on the Ryan Plan. The post is worthwhile reading throughout but her closing paragraphs contain some wisdom that it’s wise to remember as you sort through all of noise.
What the Ryan plan really shows is not where we’re going, but how long it’s going to take us to get there. The vengeful, partisan spirit of the times is not conducive to coming to any sort of bipartisan agreement, however grudging. And it is going to have to be a bipartisan agreement. Even if either side actually assembled a political coalition large enough to ram through its dream plan, look how well that’s working out for ObamaCare: threatened on all sides from lawsuits and opposition politicians looking for any opportunity to cripple the program. Democrats can complain that this is all the fault of mean, mean Republicans who are putting their narrow ideological interest ahead of the country, but of course, the Republicans think that their ideological interests are what’s best for the country. Elections also have consequences when you lose them, one of those being that controversial major legislation jammed through on a party line vote is unlikely to be particularly stable.That means that any real budget deal is going to have to, somehow, bridge the gap between Republicans and Democrats. The Ryan plan is fine as a starting point for talks. It is not fine if the GOP refuses to accept that it cannot also be the ending point.
The President will have some strong arguments — and large constituencies, which are very much more useful — on his side. Americans don’t by and large like budget deficits very much, but they are quite fond of entitlement programs. Think of the 19th century, when populist pressure led the government to reduce the price of federal lands until the Homestead Act allowed any American who wanted one to get a free farm. Bad for the budget deficit — especially after the Civil War when the national debt reached astronomical levels — but that had little impact on the voting habits of Americans who wanted free land.
The incumbents will also have a solid majority of the chattering classes and the intelligentsia on their side. Intellectuals (and I suppose that also includes low lifes like bloggers) had a special role in the progressive state. Social scientists and credentialed experts were empowered on the basis of “objective research” to provide policy guidance for the state. The growing federal government hired a lot of white collar college graduates, and even today Washington DC and its suburbs are unusually rich and the median educational level there is unusually high. There will be no shortage of thumb-suckers and chin strokers backing up the president’s talking points and demolishing Romney’s.
There are other constituencies with a stake in the status quo. African-Americans benefit from both government hiring and government spending. There will be farmers who look at Paul Ryan as a possible enemy of the farm subsidies they love so well. There are a significant number of Wall Street interests linked to the state and municipal bond market, to the state pension funds, and to other economic interests that benefit from the entitlement state.
The selection of Paul Ryan unifies the many constituencies of the Democratic Party, and allows its standard bearers to run against what they will portray as a threat to middle class prosperity, economic fairness, racial minorities and both science and reason. On the Democratic side, this is going to be a corker of a campaign: all the tribes will march and all the flags will fly.
And that leads me to this brief observation.
In selecting Ryan as his running mate, Romney has most probably ceded the election to Obama. I say that not because it is my preferred outcome but in recognition of the vast reach of the Democratic Party’s constituency as described by Mead. No longer do the Democrats need to pin a label of entitlement cutter on Romney, he has obligingly self-identified himself as such with his choice of Ryan and as Mead notes, American’s do love their entitlements.
If the travails of Europe should have taught us anything by now, it is that Western democracies in the 21st Century do not easily surrender to fiscal probity. Crisis seems to be the only agent able to reverse unsustainable government and, so far at least, resistance even in the face of the obvious leads to the conclusion that full scale collapse might well triumph over reasoned reform. To assume that American voters are somehow more enlightened or less self-serving than the citizens of Club Med is to deny human nature. With luck we might witness the inevitable evisceration of the European economy before our time comes and get a bit of religion, but interminable muddling through might as well be the outcome over there and so allow us to indulge further self-delusion. Crisis will most likely be the driver of any reform here and it will most likely have to be severe.
Perhaps it is a symptom of getting older but these times remind me a bit of 1976 and more of 1980. There was in ’76 a sense that all wasn’t well but the reluctance to break from the familiar was too strong and so the status quo was the preferred outcome. By 1980 it was blisteringly clear that the path wasn’t acceptable and thus, Reagan. The level of discomfort about is not yet where it must be to adopt a different model and thus, Obama.