Because of his pleasant demeanor, the Wisconsin congressman is rarely pressed on his radical agenda.
House Budget chairman Paul Ryan inhabits two, mutually exclusive spaces in Washington politics. He’s both a crusader for deficit reduction—the recipient of praise and accolades from the Beltway’s collection of deficit hawks—and a pure right-wing ideologue, whose budgets would gut the social safety net, slash taxes on the rich, and load the United States with trillions of dollars in debt. That he’s managed to do this without backlash from the Right or incredulity from the mainstream is a remarkable achievement, and as Jonathan Chait describes for New York Magazine, a product of his studied earnestness and ostentatious love of “wonkery”:
Seeming genuine is something Ryan does extraordinarily well. And here is where something deeper is at play, more than Ryan’s charm and winning personality, something that gets at the intellectual bankruptcy of contemporary Washington. The Ryan brand is rooted in his ostentatious wonkery. Because, unlike the Bushes and the Palins, he grounds his position in facts and figures, he seems like an encouraging candidate to strike a bargain. But the thing to keep in mind about Ryan is that he was trained in the world of Washington Republican think tanks. These were created out of a belief that mainstream economists were hopelessly biased to the left, and crafted an alternative intellectual ecosystem in which conservative beliefs—the planet is not getting warmer, the economy is not growing more unequal—can flourish, undisturbed by skepticism. Ryan is intimately versed in the blend of fact, pseudo-fact, and pure imagination inhabiting this realm.
The thing that comes across in Chait’s piece, more than anything, is the degree to which so many people simply don’t believe that Ryan is a right-wing ideologue. When given a choice between him and their lying eyes, they choose him, despite the fact that his budget would clearly result in a return to the pre-New Deal era, where government was mostly uninvolved in the economic life of the country, to the detriment of everyone.
To wit, Chait relays an interview with New York Times business columnist James Stewart, who assumes that Ryan would raise tax rates on capital gains as part of his budget plan, despite the fact that Ryan has been a vocal opponent of taxes on capital gains. Chait is baffled, and asks him to square the circle:
I asked Stewart why he believed so strongly that Ryan actually supported such a reform, despite the explicit opposition of his budget. “Maybe he’s being boxed in” by right-wing colleagues, Stewart suggested.
This is actually a problem for trying to challenge Ryan’s brand of reactionary conservatism; if the arbiters of mainstream discourse refuse to take Ryan on his stated terms—because he talks nice and works out a lot—then the public is necessarily less informed about what the Wisconsin representative wants for the United States. You can see this dynamic at work in today’s Times profile of Ryan, where we learn a lot about his popularity, his exercise regimen, and his love of noodling (catching catfish with your bare hands), and not very much about his plans or their implications.
Ryan’s ideas should discredit him—they are little more than an updated version of the policies that led us to the worst economy since the Depression. But people like to be hooked, and the earnest congressman is a great salesman.
By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, April 30, 2012
Over the weekend, a top GOP aide said President Obama got the idea from Romney. A look at his past positions shows that’s not true.
Over the weekend, top Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom made an audacious claim:
“[Romney's] position on the bailout was exactly what President Obama followed. I know it infuriates them to hear that…. The only economic success that President Obama has had is because he followed Mitt Romney’s advice.”
As Fehrnstrom predicted, liberals are reacting with irritation and incredulity. They point out — not for the first time — that Romney published a New York Times op-ed in November 2008, even before Obama had taken office, headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”
The case is actually a little more complex than that, although Fehnstrom’s claim is still hard to take seriously. To understand how we got here, here’s a brief history of Romney’s statements on the car industry.
During the 2008 primary campaign, Romney won Michigan, a victory that was in part attributed to his promises to save the Motor City’s main industry. “If I am president, I will not rest until Michigan is back,” he said. “Michigan can once again lead the world’s automotive industry.” His campaign contrasted that with John McCain, who said, “I’ve gotta look you in the eye and tell you that some of those jobs aren’t coming back.” Romney’s main policy prescription was a series of federal spending for retraining and green tech, to be doled out in $20 billion chunks over five years. The McCain campaign derided thisas a “$100 billion bailout of the auto industry.”
By November 2008, shortly after Obama’s election, the economy was in free-fall. Here’s an excerpt from Romney’s now-infamous column:
If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed. Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself …. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check.
Romney called for a “managed bankruptcy,” in which company’s executives would be replaced and union contracts would be renegotiated with more favorable terms. Reversing his position during the Republican primary, he said shedding excess workers was now essential. He wanted the government to oversee the bankruptcy but for it be paid for with private-sector funding. But as former Obama administration “car czar” Steven Rattner and others have pointed out, there did not appear to be any private money on the sidelines. Markets were in disarray and credit was drying up fast — and so, they argue, the federal government’s coffers were the only thing standing between GM and the company’s total demise.
In May 2009, Romney appeared on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, who pressed him on the issue:
WALLACE: Wouldn’t that, at a time when we were in the depths of the recession, when we were really right in the midst of what looked like a financial crisis — wouldn’t that have been disastrous for the economy?
ROMNEY: It’d have been precisely the right thing to do for the economy. To help General Motors at that point, before it had received tens of billions of dollars from the government, go through a structured process either in court or out of court to rid itself of its excessive union contract obligations, would have been the right course, and at that point the government could have helped with warranty guarantees and so forth, with debtor possession financing …. We wouldn’t have closed the business down or liquidated it, we instead would have helped it restructure. It was the right course to take, it’s being taken now, too late unfortunately, and as a result the government ends up with more than 70 percent of GM.
Already, we can see Romney struggling with the issue. But the gist of his main answer is already in place: The government funding was wrong, but the restructuring was right.
In June 2011, he reprised this point on the CBS Early Show: “When I wrote that the auto industry was asking for a bailout, we are unwise to send billions of dollars [to companies], instead — finally — the president recognized I was right, and finally took the company, in the case at General Motors, the company finally went through bankruptcy and went through a managed bankruptcy, came out of bankruptcy and is now recovering.”
With the Michigan primary looming in late February 2012, and his numbers sagging as Rick Santorum surged, Romney was again on the defensive. On February 14, he wrote an op-ed in the Detroit News (now paywalled online), writing, “The president tells us that without his intervention things in Detroit would be worse. I believe that without his intervention things there would be better.” He appeared with Wallace a few days later, and the host again pressed him. Romney once again insisted that GM could have gone through a managed bankruptcy without federal bailout funds.
That brings us to the present day, and Fehrnstrom’s comments. There have been two important shifts in Romney’s position. The first is from pre-recession, 2008 campaign Romney, who supported a $100 billion government investment in maintaining Detroit jobs, to recession-era Romney, who adopted the idea that the automakers needed pain — including potentially significant job loss — to survive. The major questions here are (1) whether it was feasible for the companies to find private financing to restructure and (2) whether the associated job loss and economic ripple effects would have been acceptable. While Romney is correct that the restructuring was what he suggested, his idea at the time was hardly unique; there was a consensus that the companies needed to be significantly reshaped. The question was how to do it, and he said the answer was without federal funds.
The second shift is from the the stance Romney has taken since his op-ed to Fehrstrom’s comments on Sunday. Fehrnstrom is overreaching in claiming that Obama adopted “exactly” what Romney recommended, given his longstanding opposition to the bailouts. It’s understandable that Romney would want to align himself with the successful rescue of the auto industry: While the bailouts are still unpopular with Americans overall, a plurality agree that they helped the economy. Moreover, the move is comparatively popular in Rust Belt states and among working-class white voters with whom Obama is otherwise weak.
Romney’s position on how to handle the carmakers may not have been realistic, but it was far less cartoonish than his liberal critics have suggested. Trying to rewrite history, however, won’t answer their attack.
By: David A. Graham, Associate Editor, The Atlantic, April 30, 2012
Mitt Romney informs us that the raid that took out Osama bin Laden one year ago was no big deal, because “even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.”
Necessary disclosure: I worked for Jimmy Carter and admire his intentions, his character, and many of his achievements, although I am not usually considered an uncritical booster of his record as president.
But let’s remember:
1) Jimmy Carter is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who spent ten years in the uniformed service of his country. As far as I can tell, this is ten years more than the cumulative service of members of the Romney clan. Obviously you don’t have to be a veteran to have judgments about military policy or criticisms of others’ views. But when it comes to casual slurs about someone else’s strength or resolve, you want to be careful, as a guy on the sidelines, sounding this way about people who have served.
2) Jimmy Carter did indeed make a gutsy go/no-go call. It turned out to be a tactical, strategic, and political disaster. You can read the blow-by-blow in Mark Bowden’s retrospective of “The Desert One Debacle.” With another helicopter, the mission to rescue U.S. diplomats then captive in Teheran might well have succeeded — and Carter is known still to believe that if the raid had succeeded, he would probably have been re-elected. Full discussion another time, but I think he’s right. (Even with the fiasco, and a miserable “stagflation” economy, the 1980 presidential race was very close until the very end.)
But here’s the main point about Carter. Deciding to go ahead with that raid was a close call. Carter’s own Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, had opposed the raid and handed in his resignation even before the results were known. And it was a daring call — a choice in favor of a risky possible solution to a festering problem, knowing that if it went wrong there would be bad consequences all around, including for Carter himself. So if you say “even Jimmy Carter” to mean “even a wimp,” as Romney clearly did, you’re showing that you don’t know the first thing about the choice he really made.
3) Precisely because of the consequences of Carter’s failure, Obama was the more daring in making his go/no-go decision. That’s the case I argued last year, and nothing I’ve learned since then changes my view. As a college student, Obama had seen a marginally popular Democratic president come to ruin because he approved a helicopter-based secret mission into hostile Middle Eastern terrain. Obama went ahead with a helicopter-based secret mission into nominally “allied” territory, also with huge potential for trouble if things had gone wrong.
4) And while the Osama killing reflected a decade’s worth of intelligence and effort from people of both parties, and of no party, it happened on Obama’s watch. Is there any doubt that if it had happened on Bush’s, or on a President John McCain’s, it would have been the centerpiece of every political speech and commercial? Was there a single speech in the Republicans’ 2004 convention — in New York — that did not begin and end with a reference to 9/11, or the removal of Saddam Hussein?
So: obviously the Administration will want to remind voters that Osama bin Laden is gone, and obviously the Republicans will want to minimize the political significance of that fact. All fine. But not “even Jimmy Carter.” I hope that the crack was a scripted attack line, rather than being yet another spontaneous glimpse of the way Mitt Romney feels and thinks. “Even” Jimmy Carter made a daring choice, and paid the price.
By: James Fallows, The Atlantic, April 30, 2012
“No Bank Bailouts”: Tea Partiers Take Contributions From Bailed Out Banks After Opposing Bank Bailouts
Tea Party-backed candidates swept into Washington in 2010 on a wave of opposition to bank bailouts. Now that they’re in Washington, however, their campaigns are drowning in campaign cash provided by the very banks that benefited from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
The 10 freshmen Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee who have Tea Party backing have taken more than $100,000 from the political action committees affiliated with JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs — the nation’s five largest banks — Bloomberg reports:
Yet the anti-bailout fervor that drove the messaging of Republican candidates during the campaign cycle of 2009 and 2010 has dissipated, and those same lawmakers are now collecting money from the firms bailed out by President George W. Bush’s $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program. [...]
The political action committees of those institutions have distributed $169,499 through March 31 to the campaign coffers of the 10 freshman Tea Party-backed lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosure records.
The Tea Party hasn’t succeeded in ending “too big too fail” because they haven’t tried. Though the five biggest banks are now bigger than they were before the financial crisis, the Tea Party members haven’t proposed a single piece of legislation to limit their size. Instead, they’ve focused on repealing financial reform and blocking efforts to protect consumers from Wall Street’s predatory practices.
Multiple Democrats have proposed legislation to cap the size of large banks, while others have proposed new ways to unwind large banks without taxpayer-funded bailouts should they collapse. The efforts have drawn no support from the Tea Party. “No more bailouts,” Tea Party Express’ website proclaims. The candidates it and other Tea Party organizations backed in 2010, however, apparently no longer feel the same way.
By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, April 30, 2012
Remind me to send a thank you note to Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann for their heralded Outlook piece sounding a fire alarm about the Republican party burning down the house of democracy in the Washington Post Sunday. Here is its essence:
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier…..ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by….facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
Washington’s leading experts have spoken. The word has come down from the American Enterprise Institute and the Brookings Institution. This is a nice way to say Republicans in Congress—every single one—have done everything they can to make Barack Obama’s presidency a failure, from day one. In historical retrospect, I am sure Obama will receive some long-delayed credit for bearing the burden of their slights and cuts gracefully and succeeding in spite of their spite.
But there’s something else long delayed here, and that’s a profound indictment of the Republican Party. The messengers are absolutely right, the elephant emperor has no clothes. But Ornstein and Mann’s belated recognition of reality could have been written years ago, and rung true.
Does the impeachment trial of William J. Clinton ring a bell? That Democratic president, too, was relentlessly hunted as prey, even though the country was doing well in times of peace and prosperity. The House Republicans led by Newt Gingrich didn’t give a damn, driven by partisan zeal—since we’re being real, partisan hatred. The difference is Clinton fought back against his enemies. Obama has chosen to act as if they’re not there, or that he can, with time, win them over. In fact, that strategy has been the worst flaw of his governing style.
As the co-authors acknowledge, outrages against the traditions of congressional conduct and engagement took off in once Newt Gingrich decided to become speaker by any means possible. He became speaker in 1995—a good 17 years ago. They also blame Grover Norquist, the antitax fiend, for taking the “Grand” out of the GOP. They left out the third man: Rush Limbaugh, whom Gingrich made the class mascot for the 1994 Republican takeover of the House. Limbaugh has poisoned the well of public “dis-coarse” better than anyone I know. He delivers the House Republicans huge doses of partisan ardor from his angry white middle-class male constituency.
Mann and Ornstein observe, “Divided government has produced something closer to complete gridlock than we have ever seen.” Yes, and please pass the potatoes. Republicans are acting the same way they ever did (late in the last century) in opposition to a Democratic president. It’s just that they took a half-time break, easing up during the long years of the George W. Bush presidency and its wars. The Mann-Ornstein analysis (published in a new book available this week) is sound and welcome. At last an “official” acknowledgement that there is no center in national politics, so therefore it cannot hold. To wit, Obama waited for snow to melt all summer, so anxious was he for one Senate Republican vote for healthcare reform. And no, the moderate Sen. Olympia Snowe did not melt his first summer as president.
Climate change is perhaps the most urgent issue where Congress has fallen down on the job because Republicans refuse to face the evidence all around us: The earth is warming and changing. Give them this, they are good team players.
But party discipline goes only so far in a hurting country, Mann and Ornstein could have helped us more by speaking out sooner. They take the liberty of scolding the press for trying to achieve false balance by presenting two sides of a story as equally legitimate. They also say the press should take arms against the 60-vote trend in the Senate—meaning 60 votes is necessary to cut off invisible “filibusters.” They rightly note, “The framers certainly didn’t intend it to be [routine].”
We’ve all been watching the elephant emperor with no clothes and we all let the parade go on too long. By golly, I’ll write that thank you note, and hope Ornstein and Mann will understand if it’s a little late.
By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, April 30, 2012