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Print view: Ryan would punish ''the poor and the vulnerable.'' But so what? Someone's in love
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EZRA IN LOVE! Ryan would punish “the poor and the vulnerable.” But so what? Someone’s in love: // link // print // previous // next //

It just keeps getting worse: Good God.

We had planned to wait at least until Friday to revisit Rachel Maddow’s attempts to critique “the Beltway press.” Trust us—there’s a different topic we would have liked to limn in this space today.

Sometimes, though, the work is so bad that it simply can’t be overlooked. This was Maddow, just last night, going after that Beltway press coverage:

MADDOW (4/5/11): In all of the Beltway press coverage of this potential budget showdown in D.C. now, you read over and over and over again about how desperate both sides are to avoid a government shutdown. Right? In the Washington Post, quote, "Republicans and Democrats are eager to avoid a shutdown." At today, quote, "No government shutdown. Why Republicans and Democrats will work to avoid the crisis."

This is the Beltway frame for what’s going on in the government shutdown fight right now. And it sort of sounds right. Until you notice that Republicans don’t seem that eager to be avoiding this shutdown.

Maddow went on to claim that Republicans actually want a shutdown, despite what “the Beltway press” has said in all its coverage, over and over and over.

As we continue, try to recall that this was broadcast by Our Own Rhodes Scholar.

In one way, the Daily Howler was getting results in the passage we’ve posted. Incredible! Maddow named two major news organs, including the Washington Post. (To watch the full segment, click here.)

Of course, it’s hard to prove, from just two quotes, that the entire “Beltway press” has been pushing one framework “over and over and over again.” But this is the first time we’ve ever seen Maddow name a news org as big as the Post in her unfolding critiques of “the Beltway press.” And sure enough! The statement she quoted, from yesterday’s front-page report, is hard to defend as basic journalism. How does reporter Paul Kane know that "Republicans and Democrats are eager to avoid a shutdown?” What does he even mean by that statement? Are all Reps and Dems so inclined?

That claim is found deep in that front-page report, but it strikes us as weak journalism. But consider Maddow’s second example of the press corps’ hapless, party-line efforts. “At today,” she said—and then she read the quote: "No government shutdown. Why Republicans and Democrats will work to avoid the crisis.”

Truly, this is just sad.

We could find no such statement or headline at Slate, so we decided to use the link from the Maddow Show blog (click here). It took us to this analysis piece by John Dickerson—a piece which ran on February 25, just before the two parties did find a way to avoid an impending shutdown.

Let’s review:

Six weeks ago, Dickerson wrote an analysis piece, predicting that the two parties would avoid an impending shutdown. His prediction turned out to be right. Last night, Maddow quoted what Dickerson wrote, while saying it had been written yesterday.

She used it as proof of the way “the Beltway press” can’t figure out what’s happening right before them.

We’ve never seen the likes of Maddow; her staff may be even worse. She delivered her claim with tremendous assurance, as she persistently does.

Can we say it again? Dickerson’s prediction turned out to be right! Last night, Maddow used his prediction as proof that “the Beltway press” is just so pathetically wrong. In our experience, this is fairly typical of the way this show employs “facts.”

By the way: The shutdown in question was averted on March 1. That morning, before the deal was struck, the Washington Post ran this front-page report. Republican freshmen might queer the whole thing, the big Beltway newspaper said.

You’re right! This plainly wasn’t the uniform party line Maddow described last night—as she told us, with massive assurance, something howlingly wrong.

Yes, this was only one inane claim. But it was such a wondrously perfect false claim that we’ve passed it along.

By the way, speaking of Schumer: Maddow’s long-winded partisan screed to the side, we have wondered, on several recent occasions, whether some big Democrats may be trying to bring on a shutdown. Have you ever wondered that?

We have. Just saying! Unlike Maddow, we of course can’t be sure.

KLEIN IN LOVE (permalink): Within the realm ruled by Hard Pundit Law, everyone seems to know that attention must be paid—that plaudits must be advanced.

Yesterday, as the lunch hour neared, Ezra Klein posted the first of several statements vouching for Paul Ryan’s wonderful character. Somehow, career liberal pundits seem to know that they are required to do this:

KLEIN (4/5/11, 11:45 AM): That Ryan’s shown political courage by proposing difficult and even dangerous policy ideas can’t be denied. But political courage in service of bad ideas is no virtue. His budget concentrates its sacrifices among the poor and vulnerable and largely exempts defense spending and high-income taxpayers.

Has Ryan “shown political courage?” Perhaps referring to unpublished laws, Klein said this “can’t be denied.” But why does it take “political courage” for a major Republican politician to offer a plan which “concentrates its sacrifices among the poor and vulnerable and largely exempts…high-income taxpayers?” Whatever one may think of that plan, why does it take “political courage?”

Because of such proposals, Ryan has become the darling of ruling elites. He will remain so for life. Let’s assume that Klein’s assessment of his proposal is accurate: Why would a proposal like that require “political courage?”

Is Ezra obeying an unpublished law, a law understood through the guild? About six hours later, as dinner approached, he posted on Ryan again. In this post, Klein was critical of the courageous man, though in a highly limited way. And not before offering the requisite statements about Ryan’s various virtues:

KLEIN (4/5/11, 5:52 PM): Ryan is the kind of politician I fundamentally like. He’s smart, policy-oriented and willing to take political risks—but only, it turns out, of a certain kind. His budget puts Republicans at risk by yoking them to a plan to privatize Medicare, slash Medicaid and cut taxes on the wealthy. Which is to say, it puts Republicans at risk by pulling them very far to the right. But there are no risks of apostasy here. Nothing like Obama pushing Democrats on an individual mandate he had once opposed and a slew of cuts and reforms to Medicare. Nothing like George H. W. Bush agreeing to raise taxes as part of a budget deal. Nothing that might anger people to his right, as opposed to those to his left.

Ezra went on to allege that Ryan has painted the GOP into a partisan box. But along the way, he fawned again. “Since I don’t like most of Ryan’s proposed reform, perhaps I should be happy about that. But I’m not,” he lamented. “It’s disappointing to see so much political talent lashed to Grover Norquist’s policy agenda.”

Let’s see. Ryan is courageous, smart and policy-oriented. He’s the kind of politician Klein fundamentally likes—and he seems to be brimming with talent. It may seem strange to see a young career liberal gushing this way about someone who wants to go after the poor and the vulnerable, while serving the wealthy—but in this case, the vouching was stranger than that. You see, around tea time, Ezra had offered another post about Ryan. It had started like this:

KLEIN (4/5/11, 4:17 PM): Paul Ryan’s funny numbers

Jon Bernstein is right to warn that the numbers in Paul Ryan’s budget look a little funny. For one thing, he’s assuming repealing the Affordable Care Act will save $1.4 trillion over the next 10 years. The Congressional Budget Office says keeping Affordable Care Act saves more than $200 billion over the same period. When asked to explain the discrepancy, Ryan said he was using CBO’s numbers, which is clearly untrue. So something is wrong there.

“I’d be very skeptical of some of the more outlandish numbers Ryan released alongside his report,” Ezra said as he ended this post. An hour later, he was saying that Ryan is the kind of pol he fundamentally likes. So smart! So policy-oriented!

Let’s be excessively fair. Yesterday, Klein authored six posts about Ryan’s proposal. In only two of these posts did he gush about Ryan’s admirable characteristics—about his courage, his smarts, his political talent, his focus on policy. In the other four posts, Klein wrote dispassionate analyses—or he cited Ryan’s apparent dishonesty, without making any attempt to tie this to a larger assessment of Ryan’s character. Is it possible that Ryan is heartless, cruel, dishonest, a nut? Those kinds of conclusions were never broached. Go ahead—chuckle mordantly at this, the conclusion of an early-afternoon post:

KLEIN (4/5/11, 12:44 PM): So I’d be a lot more sympathetic to what Paul Ryan is proposing if he wanted to build on the Affordable Care Act. But what he actually wants to do is repeal the Affordable Care Act, slash Medicaid and privatize Medicare. There’s no vision of a working health-care system in that proposal. It wouldn’t just leave more people uninsured than the Affordable Care Act does, but due to the Medicaid cutbacks, it’d probably leave more Americans uninsured than the status quo does, too. That’s not only morally unacceptable, but it’ll impede our efforts to bring down health-care costs systemwide. Remember that controlling health-care costs is, in the end, either about treating sick people or keeping people from getting sick. That’s why the Affordable Care Act focused so heavily on delivery-system reform. Ryan just yanks health-care insurance away from various groups of people, pockets the savings and calls it a day. That’s not good enough.

Ryan wants to “slash Medicaid” and “privatize Medicare,” in a way which would “probably leave more Americans uninsured” than is the case at present. Ryan’s proposal “just yanks health-care insurance away from various groups of people” and “pockets the savings.” At one point, Klein says this proposal’s probable outcomes is “morally unacceptable.” But he never states a negative conclusion about Ryan himself.

Would Ryan “yank health-care insurance away from various groups” and “pocket the savings?” “That’s not good enough,” Ezra says.

What is the nature of Paul Ryan’s character? For ourselves, we simply don’t know. Ryan strikes us as a bit of a nut; beyond that, we think his (repeated) claim that Democrats will have “to lie or demagogue” to oppose his plan is an ugly, unacceptable statement. (It lies outside the traditional norms of Washington political combat.) But we don’t really know what Ryan is like—we don’t know what he truly thinks and believes. People believe all sorts of things. It’s easy to damn the other side, but it also tends to be fairly stupid.

As a general matter, debate works better when people rein in the impulse to characterize the souls of those on the other side. But in this case, we see a vastly stranger impulse—an impulse in which career liberals like Klein seem to feel obliged to vouch for the character of those on the other side! As we mentioned yesterday, many of these same career liberals played a different game in an earlier period, when the accepted norm required pundits to build a negative moral framework around discussions of Clinton, then Gore. In fairness, Klein wasn’t part of that effort, for reasons of youth.

We return to this theme today because the conduct is just so odd. According to Klein, Ryan wants to take from “the poor and vulnerable”—and he wants to exempt millionaires. He wants to slash Medicaid; his proposal would leave even more people uninsured than we have at present. His proposal is driven by “funny numbers,” some of which are simply “outlandish.”

But so what? Ryan is full of courage. Ryan is the kind of pol Ezra fundamentally likes.

We have no earthly idea why Ezra Klein said these peculiar things. But the vouching for Ryan has been quite general in the past few days. This vouching will seem especially odd to those who can recall the way major Democrats, like Gore, had their character savaged, for years, often by the very same liberals who thunder at you on the TV today. We’d be better off if they’d swore off their novelized character tales altogether. But it’s hard to deny that these novelized tales seem to favor pols like Ryan, even among many “liberals.”

For years, we’ve tried to help you see the way career liberals have sold your interests. But in the past week, we’ve been especially struck by the lack of an overriding liberal perspective or world view.

The famous Ken Burns Civil War film has been re-airing on PBS. As we’ve watched it, we’ve thought of the punishing patterns built into our American history—and we’ve thought about the way lazy, overpaid, store-bought career liberals have sold your interests away over the past twenty years.

Ryan’s proposal emerges from a plain worldview—a worldview which has been aggressively advanced in the past thirty years. What competing worldview has come from our side?

More on this problem tomorrow.