Friday, April 8, 2011

Fanboys and Cruel Voodoo

David Brooks has now devoted two columns to his fanboy defense of Paul Ryan’s budget. (Here’s the first one.) He’s to the point that I think he’s starting to draw little hearts and arrows around his name on the cover of his notebook. And he’s getting awfully defensive when anyone suggests that Paul Ryan is not more popular than Jesus.

The Democrats are on defense because they are unwilling to ask voters to confront the implications of their choices. Democrats seem to believe that most Americans want to preserve the 20th-century welfare state programs. But they are unwilling to ask voters to pay for them, and they are unwilling to describe the tax increases that would be required to cover their exploding future costs.

Raising taxes on the rich will not do it. There aren’t enough rich people to generate the tens of trillions of dollars required to pay for Medicare, let alone all the other programs. Democrats, thus, face a fundamental choice. They can either reverse President Obama’s no-new-middle-class-taxes pledge, or they can learn to live with Paul Ryan’s version of government.

And you greedy old folks will just have to suck it up when you get sick.

…[W]e can’t let the oldsters get off scot-free. As my colleague David Leonhardt reported in The Times, two 56-years-olds with average earnings will pay about $140,000 in dedicated Medicare taxes over their lifetimes. They will receive about $430,000 in benefits. This is an immoral imposition on future generations.

Who cares about old people, anyway? All they do is drive slowly on the freeway and block the aisle at the supermarket while they’re trying to decide whether to go with Fancy Feast or Meow Mix for supper.

Ryan has moved us off Unreality Island. He is forcing Americans to confront the implications of their choices. With a few straightforward changes, his budget could be transformed into a politically plausible center-right package that would produce a fiscally sustainable welfare state while addressing the country’s structural economic problems. I suspect the process Ryan has started will take us back toward the moderate framework the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission proposed a year ago.

Great journeys begin with one bold step.

I knew that this “courageous” and “bold” meme would catch fire with this budget proposal, and I was right. The Villagers are enthralled with the “gutsy” and “adult” approach this takes to our economic future, and, by the way, Paul Ryan is hot. He’s going to be the darling on the Sunday talk shows, and it will be interesting to see if folks like Peggy Noonan or even George F. Will can keep their hands off him (“Is that Aramis?”). But since there is no chance that his proposals will ever see the light of day, what is so courageous about it?

It isn’t. As Paul Krugman says, it is “ludicrous and cruel.”

The G.O.P. budget plan isn’t a good-faith effort to put America’s fiscal house in order; it’s voodoo economics, with an extra dose of fantasy, and a large helping of mean-spiritedness.

Which, when you think about it, is a pretty good description of the Republicans for the last thirty years or so.