Bobo wants me to eat cat food. And Bobo is cross with ZEGS. In “Ryan’s Biggest Mistake” he babbles that if the Simpson-Bowles plan had been approved, we would have had national action on debt reduction. But Paul Ryan voted against it. You can practically hear him stamp his probably bespoke shod foot… In “Dulce Et Decorum Est” Mr. Cohen says the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable and a reproach to us all. Prof. Krugman tries yet again to explain to Bobo and the rest of the Republican party what the real deal is. In “Galt, Gold and God” he says Paul Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” and his fiscal program clearly reflects that. This is quite scary. Here’s Bobo:
A few years ago, President Obama established a debt commission that was led by Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles and had a group of eminences, including Representative Paul Ryan.
When that commission came up with its proposal, some conservative Republicans, like Tom Coburn and Judd Gregg, voted yes, but Ryan voted no. This was a devastating blow. If Ryan and the other House Republicans had voted for the Simpson-Bowles proposal, it would have gone to Congress for up-or-down votes, regardless of how President Obama reacted. We would have had national action on debt reduction.
The Simpson-Bowles plan would have simplified the tax code and lowered rates. It would have capped the size of government. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, it would have brought the federal debt down from 73 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product today, to 67 percent of G.D.P. in 2022.
Ryan voted no for intellectually coherent reasons. He argued that the single biggest contributing factor to public debt is the unsustainable growth of Medicare. Yet the Simpson-Bowles plan did nothing to restructure Medicare, and it sidestepped health care issues generally. Ryan said that it was silly to come up with a debt-reduction proposal that didn’t fix the single biggest driver of the nation’s debt.
This is the sort of argument that makes a lot of sense in a think-tank auditorium. The problem was there were almost no Democrats who endorsed Ryan’s Medicare reform ideas. If Ryan was going to pinion debt reduction to Medicare reform, that meant there would be no debt reduction.
But Ryan had another way forward, noting: We’re going to have an election in 2012; the country will choose between two different visions; if we Republicans win, we’ll be able to reform Medicare our way and reduce the debt our way.
In other words, Ryan was willing to sacrifice the good for the sake of the ultimate.
In order to get this ultimate solution, though, Ryan was betting that three things would happen. First, he was betting that Republicans would beat President Obama. Second, he was betting that Republicans would win such overwhelming Congressional majorities that they would be able to push through measures Democrats hate. Third, he was betting that a group of Republican politicians would unilaterally slash one of the country’s most popular programs and that they would be able to sustain these cuts through the ensuing elections, in the face of ferocious and highly popular Democratic opposition.
To put it another way, Ryan was giving up significant debt progress for a political fantasy.
Ryan’s fantasy happens to be the No. 1 political fantasy in America today, which has inebriated both parties. It is the fantasy that the other party will not exist. It is the fantasy that you are about to win a 1932-style victory that will render your opponents powerless.
Every single speech in this election campaign is based on this fantasy. There hasn’t been a speech this year that grapples with the real world — that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context.
It’s obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they’ll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s almost entirely make-believe.
In the real world, there are almost never ultimate victories, and it is almost never the case (even if you control the White House and Congress) that you get to do what you want.
The real world looks a lot like the Simpson-Bowles commission, where you get a diverse group of people who try to make progress in the areas where that is possible and try to sidestep the areas where it is not.
The real world looks like the budget talks between Obama and John Boehner last summer, in which two party leaders get together and work out a budget deal between themselves (which is easy) and also try to write a deal they can sell to their party bases (which is hard).
In the real world, leaders have a dual consciousness. They have a campaign consciousness in which they argue for the policies they think are best for the country. But then they have a governing consciousness, a mind-set they put on between elections. It says: O.K., this is the team the voters have sent to Washington. How can we navigate our divides to come up with something suboptimal but productive?
Paul Ryan has a great campaign consciousness, and, when it comes to things like Medicare reform, I agree with him. But when he voted no on the Simpson-Bowles plan he missed the chance to show that he also has a governing consciousness. He missed the chance to do something good for the country, even if it wasn’t the best he or I would wish for.
So Bobo wants to get rid of Medicare, along with Paul Ryan. Nice to know for sure, but not particularly surprising. Here’s Mr. Cohen:
As I gazed at the faces of the more than 2,000 American service members killed since the war in Afghanistan began almost 11 years ago, I found myself thinking of lines of Kipling:
If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied.
The untruths have been almost too numerous to chronicle, beginning with the great untruth that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that justified the war in Iraq (where more than 4,480 U.S. service members died); and sliding into the smaller, no less lethal untruths about how Pakistan was an ally in the Afghan struggle, and global terrorism beatable on the battle field, and nation-building feasible in Afghanistan, and sacrifice in the cause reasonable when half of the United States was off at the mall shopping, and victory always — always — within reach.
Afghanistan is a country where President Obama appointed an able envoy, the late Richard Holbrooke, only to emasculate him; where the president, Hamid Karzai, has long manipulated Western succor to his private ends; and where the greatest emergent threat comes from Afghans in the uniforms of the security forces America and its allies are training to take over from them in 2014. The country is a bottomless pit of hypocrisies.
As James Dao and Andrew W. Lehren wrote in a devastating New York Times article, “In just the past two weeks, at least 9 Americans have been killed in such insider attacks. For the year to date, at least 40 NATO service members, most of them American, have been killed by either active members of the Afghan forces or attackers dressed in their uniforms — already outstripping the toll from all last year. ”
Marina Buckley is the mother of Lance Cpl. Gregory Buckley Jr., a Marine who was the 1,990th service member to die in the Afghan war, apparently killed by Afghan security force members. She said this: “Our forces shouldn’t be there. It should be over. It’s done. No more.”
Yes, after almost 11 years, it’s done, no more.
There have been achievements; the sacrifice has not been vain even if it has been disproportionate to the gains. I’ve seen girls with bright backpacks on their way to schools in small Afghan towns, girls who would have been condemned not so long ago to the Todd Akin view of women.
Osama bin Laden has been killed in the Af-Pak theater and Al Qaeda forced to abandon its Afghan base and weakened overall. The Taliban is not defeated but can no longer impose its will on Afghan society. The nation has an army in the making even if it is shot through with problems.
But there will be no victory; further gain will be incremental or, more precisely, generational. It is time to go.
Countless lives have been needlessly lost. It took nearly seven years from the start of the war for the death toll to reach 500. Then the killing accelerated. The Afghan war is a story of inattention, distraction, carelessness, imprecision, uncertainty, corruption — as well as a chronicle of a NATO alliance where some fight and die and others much less so.
Other lines, these from Wilfred Owen, also came to mind looking at the faces of the American dead, whose average age is 26.
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
No, in such circumstances, it is not “sweet and right to die for your country” — almost 11 years into an unwinnable war.
Owen, of course, was writing about World War I. On July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, over 19,000 British troops were killed. Seen through the prism of the history of war, 2,000 dead in more than a decade is a paltry toll. As Dao and Lehren point out, more active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves last year than died in combat in Afghanistan.
But this is scarcely consolation. We have sanitized war. It is kept at a distance, hardly more real than a video game. The shopping continues (although less of late). When a milestone is reached — 2,000 dead — attention flickers up.
But otherwise the war seems far away unless you are from a military family. Pilotless drones do ever more of the killing. The thing about robotic warfare is you can watch Afghans get vaporized on a screen near Las Vegas and then drive home for dinner with the kids.
The faces of the dead are a reproach to America — a reproach to its numbness, to its leadership over the past decade, its divisions, its obliviousness, its loss of community, its factionalism, its hypocrisy and its broken politics.
They are a reproach to Europe — to the coddled allies who have not shared proportionately in the sacrifice. And they are a reproach to every one of us who has given far less and looked away.
A land war in Asia, started by people who had probably never read Kipling… What could possibly go wrong? Here’s Prof. Krugman:
So far, most of the discussion of Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican nominee for vice president, has focused on his budget proposals. But Mr. Ryan is a man of many ideas, which would ordinarily be a good thing.
In his case, however, most of those ideas appear to come from works of fiction, specifically Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”
For those who somehow missed it when growing up, “Atlas Shrugged” is a fantasy in which the world’s productive people — the “job creators,” if you like — withdraw their services from an ungrateful society. The novel’s centerpiece is a 64-page speech by John Galt, the angry elite’s ringleader; even Friedrich Hayek admitted that he never made it through that part. Yet the book is a perennial favorite among adolescent boys. Most boys eventually outgrow it. Some, however, remain devotees for life.
And Mr. Ryan is one of those devotees. True, in recent years, he has tried to downplay his Randism, calling it an “urban legend.” It’s not hard to see why: Rand’s fervent atheism — not to mention her declaration that “abortion is a moral right” — isn’t what the G.O.P. base wants to hear.
But Mr. Ryan is being disingenuous. In 2005, he told the Atlas Society, which is devoted to promoting Rand’s ideas, that she inspired his political career: “If I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.” He also declared that Rand’s work was required reading for his staff and interns.
And the Ryan fiscal program clearly reflects Randian notions. As I documented in my last column, Mr. Ryan’s reputation for being serious about the budget deficit is completely undeserved; his policies would actually increase the deficit. But he is deadly serious about cutting taxes on the rich and slashing aid to the poor, very much in line with Rand’s worship of the successful and contempt for “moochers.”
This last point is important. In pushing for draconian cuts in Medicaid, food stamps and other programs that aid the needy, Mr. Ryan isn’t just looking for ways to save money. He’s also, quite explicitly, trying to make life harder for the poor — for their own good. In March, explaining his cuts in aid for the unfortunate, he declared, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.”
Somehow, I doubt that Americans forced to rely on unemployment benefits and food stamps in a depressed economy feel that they’re living in a comfortable hammock.
But wait, there’s more: “Atlas Shrugged” apparently shaped Mr. Ryan’s views on monetary policy, views that he clings to despite having been repeatedly, completely wrong in his predictions.
In early 2011, Mr. Ryan, newly installed as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, gave Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, a hard time over his expansionary policies. Rising commodity prices and long-term interest rates, he asserted, were harbingers of high inflation to come; “There is nothing more insidious that a country can do to its citizens,” he intoned, “than debase its currency.”
Since then, inflation has remained quiescent while long-term rates have plunged — and the U.S. economy would surely be in much worse shape than it is if Mr. Bernanke had allowed himself to be bullied into monetary tightening. But Mr. Ryan seems undaunted in his monetary views. Why?
Well, it’s right there in that 2005 speech to the Atlas Society, in which he declared that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” when thinking about monetary policy. Who? Never mind. That speech (which clocks in at a mere 23 paragraphs) is a case of hard-money obsession gone ballistic. Not only does the character in question, a Galt sidekick, call for a return to the gold standard, he denounces the notion of paper money and demands a return to gold coins.
For the record, the U.S. currency supply has consisted overwhelmingly of paper money, not gold and silver coins, since the early 1800s. So if Mr. Ryan really thinks that Francisco d’Anconia had it right, he wants to turn the clock back not one but two centuries.
Does any of this matter? Well, if the Republican ticket wins, Mr. Ryan will surely be an influential force in the next administration — and bear in mind, too, that he would, as the cliché goes, be a heartbeat away from the presidency. So it should worry us that Mr. Ryan holds monetary views that would, if put into practice, go a long way toward recreating the Great Depression.
And, beyond that, consider the fact that Mr. Ryan is considered the modern G.O.P.’s big thinker. What does it say about the party when its intellectual leader evidently gets his ideas largely from deeply unrealistic fantasy novels?
Everything we need to know.