In this year of Trump, the land is loud with the wails of political commentators, rending their garments and crying out, “How can this be happening?” But a few brave souls are willing to whisper the awful truth: Many voters support Donald Trump because they actually agree with his ideas.
This is not, however, a column about Mr. Trump. It is, instead, about Ted Cruz, who has emerged as the favored candidate of the G.O.P. elite now that less disagreeable alternatives have imploded.
In a way, that’s quite a remarkable development. For Mr. Cruz has staked out positions on crucial issues that are, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. How can elite Republicans back him?
The answer is the same for Mr. Cruz and the elites as it is for Mr. Trump and the base: Leading Republicans support Mr. Cruz, not despite his policy positions, but because of them. They may not like his style, but they agree with his substance.
This is true, for example, when it comes to Mr. Cruz’s belligerent stance on foreign policy. Establishment Republicans may wince at the candidate’s fondness for talking about “carpet bombing” or his choice of a noted anti-Muslim bigot and conspiracy theorist as an adviser.
But both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio chose foreign policy teams dominated by the very people who pushed America into the Iraq debacle, and learned nothing from the experience. I know I wasn’t the only observer who looked at those rosters and thought, “They will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”
And then there’s a subject dear to my heart: monetary policy. You might be surprised to learn that few of the subjects I write on inspire as much passion — or as much hate mail. And it’s a subject on which Mr. Cruz has staked out a distinctive position, by calling for a return to the gold standard.
This is, in case you’re wondering, very much a fringe position among economists. When members of a large bipartisan panel on economic policy, run by the University of Chicago business school, were asked whether a gold standard would be an improvement on current arrangements, not one said yes.
In fact, many economists believe that a destructive focus on gold played a major role in the spread of the Great Depression. And Mr. Cruz’s obsession with gold is one reason to believe that he would do even more economic damage in the White House than Mr. Trump would.
So how can elite Republicans — people who have denounced Mr. Trump in part because they claim that he advocates terrible economic policies — be supporting a candidate with such fringe views? The answer is that many of them are also out there on the fringe.
This wasn’t always true. As recently as 2004, Bush administration economists lauded the very kind of policy activism a return to the gold standard is supposed to prevent, declaring that “aggressive monetary policy can help make a recession shorter and milder.” But today’s leading Republicans, living in their own closed intellectual universe, are a very different breed.
Take, as a not at all arbitrary example, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and arguably the de facto leader of the Republican establishment.
As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, Mr. Ryan is fundamentally a con man on his signature issue, fiscal policy. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mr. Cruz has been relatively honest by his party’s standards on this issue, openly declaring his intention to raise taxes that hit the poor and the middle class even as he slashes them on the rich.
But Mr. Ryan seems to be a true believer on monetary policy — the kind of true believer whose faith cannot be shaken by contrary evidence. It’s now five years since he accused Ben Bernanke of pursuing inflationary policies that would “debase” the dollar; if the rising dollar and slumping inflation that followed has ever given him pause, he has shown no sign of it.
But what, exactly, is the nature of his monetary faith? The same as the nature of Mr. Cruz’s beliefs: Both men are devotees of Ayn Rand, even if Mr. Ryan now tries to downplay his well-documented Rand fandom.
At one point Mr. Ryan got quite specific about his intellectual roots, declaring that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” — one of the interminable monologues in Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — “when I think about monetary policy.” And that speech is a paean to the gold standard and a denunciation of money-printing as immoral.
The moral here is that we shouldn’t be surprised by the Republican establishment’s willingness to rally behind Mr. Cruz. Yes, Mr. Cruz portrays himself as an outsider, and has managed to make remarkably many personal enemies. But while his policy ideas are extreme, they reflect the same extremism that pervades the party’s elite.
There are no moderates, or for that matter, sensible people, anywhere in this story.
By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, March 25, 2016
“The Challenge Of Being Paul Ryan”: He’s Been Anointed As A Savior, And Saviors Often Meet A Bad End
Paul Ryan had excellent reasons for not wanting to be speaker of the House. He’s a smart guy and knows that the Republican caucus he is about to lead is nearly ungovernable. He’s been anointed as a savior, and saviors often meet a bad end.
Moreover, the Wisconsin native (and ardent Packers fan) is still very much a work in progress. He was happy to stay away from the center stage as he mapped out the next steps of his life and the direction of his thinking. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he could pick his fights and choose the issues he wanted to highlight. As speaker, the issues will often pick him and he may well have to wage battles he might prefer to avoid.
Ryan has always wanted to be several things at the same time, and they have not been easy to keep in balance.
On the one hand, he is, from my experience, a genuinely nice and warm person who wants to be seen as thoughtful, wonkish and willing to delve deeply into policy details. He’s a religious man who knows that his faith teaches the imperative of compassion and the urgency of justice. He has repeatedly given speeches declaring his determination to alleviate poverty.
But he is also an ideologue — one reason the right-wingers in the House could accept him as speaker. He has said that the unforgiving libertarianism of Ayn Rand — whose books include one called “The Virtue of Selfishness” — inspired him to enter politics. In a speech before the Heritage Foundation in 2011, he divided the world between “takers” and “makers” and spoke of government programs as creating “a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency.” I doubt that poor people think they spend their lives swaying gently between the trees.
The budgets he has proposed over the years are his signature. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal group that is very careful about its numbers, repeatedly found that roughly two-thirds of the cuts in Ryan’s budgets came from programs for low- and moderate-income people. Take that, you takers!
Had Ryan not been pushed toward the speakership, he would have more room to refine his views and would not face constant pressure to appease the right. That pressure led him to criticize the process that outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) used to save Ryan from having to deal with impossible problems around the budget and the debt ceiling. Being Paul Ryan has just gotten even harder.
But let’s give Ryan a brief respite by focusing on his virtues. When he insisted that he would not take the speaker’s job unless he could protect his “family time,” he showed what kind of person he is and made a statement that could transform the debate about work and family.
I personally identify with Ryan because we were both 16 when our dads died and, like him, I have three kids. Time with my family has been a treasure for me, too. Good for Ryan for placing his family at the heart of his life.
Yet his statement brought him immediate and sharp criticism because he had voted against mandatory paid family leave. Rather than resenting his critics, he should take them very seriously by admitting that he enjoys a degree of bargaining power that so many Americans lack. And he should not pretend that the “flex time” proposals he has endorsed are the answer. They would merely undermine employees’ existing rights to overtime.
Ryan might take a look at a 2006 essay in the Weekly Standard by Yuval Levin, a conservative thinker I am sure he admires, acknowledging the tension between the market and the family. Levin noted that the market “values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life” and that “the libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.”
Sometimes, despite what Ayn Rand says, government action is essential to preserving individual rights in the marketplace and protecting the integrity of family life. Many families are under severe economic pressures. There are times when only government is in a position to relieve them, often through the programs Ryan would cut.
Thus a hope: Ryan could use the first days of his speakership to signal his intention of bridging at least some of the great ideological gaps in our country. A man who so honorably values his own family could start by changing his mind on family leave.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 28, 2015
Reflections upon the recent holiday: The first time my wife saw tears in my eyes was in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, at the tomb of Jonathan Swift. The brilliant 18th-century Irish satirist was my first and most enduring literary hero, a towering figure who Yeats thought “slept under the greatest epitaph in history” — composed by Swift himself.
I knew the Latin by heart, but seeing it engraved in stone moved me, although Swift had been dead since 1745. “It is almost finer in English,” Yeats wrote, “than in Latin: ‘He has gone where fierce indignation can lacerate his heart no more.’”
Reading Swift taught me more about Ireland and my Irish-Catholic ancestors than I ever learned at my alcoholic grandfather’s knee, I can tell you that. An Anglo-Irish churchman who considered himself exiled from London to the city of his birth, Swift condemned British misrule of Ireland in the most memorable satires written in English or any other language.
His 1729 pamphlet “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents” retains the capacity to shock after almost 300 years. Impersonating the ever-so-reasonable voice of a public-spirited reformer of the sort who might today issue proposals from the Heritage Foundation, the narrator advocated genteel cannibalism.
“I rather recommend buying the children alive and dressing them hot from the knife,” he suggested, “as we do roasting pigs.”
It’s the laconic “rather” that chills to the marrow, precisely revealing the pamphleteer’s inhumanity.
Swift was certainly no Irish nationalist. A Tory by temperament and conviction, he’d have been appalled by the idea that the island’s Roman Catholic majority could govern itself. Even so, Professor Leo Damrosch’s terrific new biography makes a compelling case that both his voice and his personal example were instrumental to an evolving Irish national consciousness.
I thought of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” the other day, listening to the ever-so-reasonable Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) explain that America’s poor have only themselves to blame. “We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular,” Ryan explained, “of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.”
Any question who he was talking about? As several commentators have noted, this business about “inner city” men not working isn’t so much Republican “dogwhistle” as GOP air-raid siren.
Ryan has since alibied that he’d been “inarticulate” and wasn’t trying to implicate “the culture of one community.” This came soon after a speech in which he’d told a heartfelt tale of a small boy who didn’t want a “free lunch from a government program,” but a Mommy-made lunch in a brown paper bag that showed somebody cared about him.
Coming from a guy busily trying to cut funding for school lunch programs and food stamps, this was pretty rich. Also apparently, apocryphal. The witness who’d told Ryan the tale in a congressional hearing had not only swiped it from a book called The Invisible Thread, but reversed its meaning. Which wasn’t so much that government assistance, as Ryan warned, threatens to leave children with “a full stomach and an empty soul,” as that sermons mean very little to hungry children.
Delivered just before St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan’s disquisition upon the undeserving poor earned him the scorn of the New York Times’ Timothy Egan. Taking note of Ryan’s great-great grandfather, who emigrated to the United States during the catastrophic Irish famine of the 1840s, Egan pointed out that Ryan’s words echoed the rhetoric of Victorian Englishmen content to let his ancestors die lest they become dependent upon charity.
It’s not always understood in this country that the mass starvation of Irish peasants — more than a million died, and another million emigrated — resulted not from the failure of the potato crop but English government policy. Ireland remained a net exporter of food throughout, with British soldiers guarding shipments of foodstuffs as they were loaded.
Rhetoric, see, has consequences. From Swift’s time onward, the native Irish had been depicted in terms justifying their subjugation. Virtually every negative stereotype applied to our “inner city” brethren today was first applied to Paul Ryan’s (and my own) ancestors. Irish peasants were called shiftless, drunken, sexually promiscuous, donkey strong but mentally deficient. They smelled bad.
Understanding that history is exactly what makes Irish-Americans like Timothy Egan, Charles P. Pierce and me — if I may include myself in their company — so impatient with a tinhorn like Ryan. If he wanted to understand his own ancestry, it’s authors like Swift, Yeats and James Joyce that Ryan ought to be reading, instead of that dismal ideologue Ayn Rand.
Nobody should let ethnic groupthink determine his politics. But if a politician like Paul Ryan hopes to be respected, it would help if he showed some sign of understanding the past.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, March 19, 2014
“Champion Of The Poor?”: Paul Ryan’s Post-Epiphany Agenda Is Likely To Be Awfully Similar To His Pre-Epiphany Agenda
Just last month, the Washington Post ran a surprisingly uncritical, front-page article on House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), celebrating the congressman for his efforts “fighting poverty and winning minds.” The gist of the piece was that the far-right congressman is entirely sincere about using conservative ideas – both economic and spiritual – to combat poverty.
BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins is thinking along similar lines.
Until recently, Paul Ryan would have seemed like an improbable pick to lead the restoration of compassionate conservatism with a heartfelt mission to the poor. Of all the caricatures he has inspired – from heroic budget warrior to black-hearted Scrooge – “champion of the poor” has never been among them. And yet, Ryan has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country with Woodson, while his staff digs through center-right think tank papers in search of conservative policy proposals aimed at aiding the poor. Next spring, Ryan plans to introduce a new battle plan for the war on poverty – one he hopes will launch a renewed national debate on the issue. […]
[T]hose closest to him say Ryan’s new mission is the result of a genuine spiritual epiphany – sparked, in part, by the prayer in Cleveland, and sustained by the emergence of a new pope who has lit the world on fire with bold indictments of the “culture of prosperity” and a challenge to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged.
Well, if those closest to Paul Ryan think we should see his concern for the poor as heartfelt, who am I to argue?
All kidding aside, I don’t know the congressman personally, and can’t speak to his sincerity. But ultimately, whether or not Ryan had a “genuine spiritual epiphany” doesn’t much matter – either the Wisconsinite has a policy agenda that will make a difference in the lives of those in poverty or he doesn’t.
And at least for now, he doesn’t. Though we have not yet seen the agenda Ryan intends to unveil in the spring, we’ve seen reports that his vision “relies heavily on promoting volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” He’s also reportedly focused on “giving poor parents vouchers or tax credits” for private education.
In other words, Ryan’s post-epiphany agenda is likely to be awfully similar to his pre-epiphany agenda.
What’s more, we’ve also seen plenty of other policy measures from the congressman. As we talked about in November, this is the same congressman whose original budget plan was simply brutal towards families in poverty, the same congressman who supports deep cuts to food stamps, the same congressman who wants to scrap Social Security and Medicare; and the same congressman who’s balked at raising the minimum wage and extending federal unemployment benefits.
If Paul Ryan is the new model for the Republican Party’s anti-poverty crusader, struggling families should be terrified.
Jared Bernstein recently said of Ryan, “the emperor in the empty suit has no clothes,” adding:
Ryan Poverty Plan
1. Cut spending on the poor, cut taxes on the wealthy
2. Shred safety net through block granting federal programs
3. Encourage entrepreneurism, sprinkle around some vouchers and tax credits
5. Poverty falls
If Ryan is in the midst of a personal transition from Ayn Rand to Scripture, more power to him. But I hope the political establishment, which has always taken the congressman a bit too seriously and accepted his radical vision with far too much credulity, will be duly skeptical as he slaps a fresh coat of paint on his old ideas.
Postscript: Peter Flaherty, a devout Catholic and former Romney adviser, told BuzzFeed, “What Pope Francis is doing is, instead of changing Catholicism, he’s changing the way the world views Catholicism… And I think Paul has the opportunity to do something similar for conservatism.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 20, 2013
“What’s Different About Today’s Conservatives?”: With The Elites Marginalized, The Extremist’s Are Much More Empowered
When people, usually liberals, compare today’s conservatives unfavorably to conservatives of previous generations, I often get annoyed. Viewing today’s conservatives through the misty water-covered memories of the past, observers today tend to focus on out-of-character liberal policies that some conservatives, because of political expediency, were forced to pursue (Nixon’s environmental record, for example, or Reagan’s negotiations with the Soviets). In short, they cherry-pick relatively rare examples of conservatives supporting liberal policies, and they forget that these took place in a political context where liberalism was much more powerful, while conservatism was far less so.
But I would argue that there is one important way in which today’s conservatives differ from conservatives of the past. It’s this: today’s conservative movement is much more genuinely populist, in the sense that it is much less dominated by elites. A good example of what I mean is illustrated by this essay by Michael Lind, which appeared this week in Salon.com. Lind recounts an important episode in the history of American conservatism: the story of how, in the 1950s, the wildly popular libertarian novelist Ayn Rand was basically read out of the conservative movement. The most famous smackdown occurred in 1957 in the pages of William F. Buckley’s National Review, when conservative icon Whittaker Chambers wrote a scathing review of Rand’s magnum opus. Lind describes the episode, but leaves out the most famous sentence in Chambers’ review, which is this: “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber — go!’”
Following that review, Rand, although she presided over a fervent cult (literally — read this fascinating book for more), was marginalized within the conservative movement. And Rand wasn’t the only extremist Buckley and the National Review crowd kicked out. They also denounced the John Birch Society, anti-Semites, and eventually (by the 1970s, anyway), extremist racists*. This is not to say, of course, that Buckley and the National Review didn’t continue to support many noxious, far-right ideas and policies. In one infamous example, Buckley took to the pages of the New York Times to advocate tattooing AIDS victims “on the buttocks.” But for the most part he did kick out the radical fringe.
The main difference between the conservative movement then and now is that elites like Buckley have lost the ability to define the movement. Today, conservatism is less hierarchical, and more diffuse. It’s not that conservative elites don’t wield considerable power in the movement, of course. But within conservatism, there is no longer anyone of Buckley’s stature who has the power to define the boundaries of the respectable right, and to purge certain individuals or tendencies. The closest thing to a leader today’s conservative movement has is Rush Limbaugh, who delights in voicing extremist opinions and trafficking in the kind of inflammatory rhetoric that many voters find repellent.
As a result, extremists within conservatism are much more empowered. This has had mixed results for conservatives. On the one hand, the conservative base, because it is far less interested in currying favor with the political establishment, has had some success in pursuing a much more aggressively partisan agenda. Conservatives in the House and Senate are far more obstructionist than previously, and have not shied away from opposing strongly popular measures (like background checks for gun owners), or to taking widely unpopular actions (like impeaching Bill Clinton).
In other ways, though, the extremist populist base has hurt the party. Today, the Senate would probably be in Republican hands if the conservative base had not insisted in nominating extremist candidates like Todd Akin and Christine O’Donnell.
Eventually, as America continues to experience demographic changes that tend to favor Democrats, conservatives may come to regret the extent to which extremists have taken over their movement. Whatever short-term gains this strategy has won for conservatism, it will likely turn out to be harmful to the movement’s long-term interests. Tomorrow’s conservatives may wish they’d had a Buckley-type figure who had drawn a line in the sand between “respectable” conservatives and the fringe. But the way many of today’s aging conservatives see it is probably akin to that charming Wall Street acronym, IBGYBG: “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.”
*Note: in the 1950s and through much of the 1960s, the National Review was openly racist and pro-segregationist. Once civil rights won the day, the NR toned down the racism. It’s not that they were ever particularly supportive civil rights or racial equality, but they tended to use code words and dog whistles rather than explicit appeals to white supremacy.
By: Kathleen Geier, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 10, 2013