Krugman’s blog, 10/10/15

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Paul Ryan, Centrist Crush:”

The centrist view of politics
The centrist view of politics

If Paul Ryan has any sense of self-preservation — and that is one thing he surely has — he will look for any way possible to avoid becoming Speaker. The hard right is already attacking him, essentially accusing him of not being sufficiently crazy, and they’re right. On policy substance he’s totally an Ayn Rand-loving, reward-the-rich and punish-the-poor guy, but so are lots of other Republicans; what they want is someone willing to go along with kamikaze tactics, and he isn’t. His fall from grace would be swift.

But if Ryan isn’t distinctive in his political positions, why does he loom so large within his party? The answer is that he’s more or less unique among extreme right-wingers in having the approbation of centrists, especially centrist pundits. That is, he’s a big man within the GOP because people outside seem to approve of him. And it’s important to ask why.

What you need to understand about political commentary these days — including the de facto commentary that poses as news analysis, or even reporting — is that most of the people doing it have both a professional and an emotional stake in portraying the two parties as symmetric, equally good or bad on policy issues and general behavior. To stray from this pose of even-handedness is to be labeled a partisan — and to admit that the parties aren’t the same, after all, would mean admitting that you’ve been wrong about the most basic features of the situation for years.

Unfortunately for professional centrists, the parties aren’t remotely symmetric. Compare the policy proposals Hillary Clinton has been releasing with those being put out even by establishment Republican candidates like Rubio and Bush. Whether you like Clinton’s proposals or not, there’s some serious wonkery behind them, and they’re the kind of thing you could easily imagine being put into effect. Meanwhile, even the supposedly moderate GOPers are peddling voodoo, puppies, and rainbows. What’s a professional centrist to do?

The answer is that he or she desperately needs to find conservatives they can take seriously, people who produce policy ideas that, even if you don’t support their priorities, add up and generally make sense. And that’s Paul Ryan’s game: he has put himself forward as the serious, honest conservative of centrists’ dreams, someone they can cite approvingly as a way of showing their centrism and open-mindedness.

And it has been a stunningly successful act. In his heyday, Ryan was the object of an immense, indeed embarrassing, media crush — the word “love” came up a lot.

But Ryan didn’t step into that role by actually being a serious, honest conservative; he just played one on TV. If you knew anything at all about budgeting, you soon realized that his supposedly responsible fiscal proposals were stuffed full of mystery meat. He knew how to game the system, creating the impression that CBO had vetted his plans when it had done no such thing (and in fact hinted broadly that the whole thing was a crock). But there’s never been any indication that he actually knows how to produce a budget — and in any case, giant tax cuts for the rich and fiscal responsibility are fundamentally incompatible.

So Ryan’s current stature is really quite curious, and I’d argue quite fragile. He has been a highly successful con artist, pretending to be the reasonable conservative centrists desperately want to see; he has become a power within his party because of that external achievement. But he’s not a true hero of the crazy right; he’s valued mainly because of his successful con job on the center. So he doesn’t have a reserve of goodwill from the crazies that would let him be, well, not crazy. On the other hand, if he were to be the kind of speaker the crazies want, he would undermine that all-important centrist approbation. Being off to the side, pretending to be dealing thoughtfully with important policy issues, was where he needed to be; moving to the speaker’s chair would be a lose-lose proposition.

Yesterday’s second post was “Warp Drive Economics:”

What happens to economics in a world where replicators make your tea? Panel at Comic Con, tomorrow at 1:15.

 

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