Paul Ryan, failed Vice-Presidential candidate and Chairman of the House budget Committee released his budget today. In a just world, his appearance before the press would have been met with jeers, heckling and perhaps a few accurately aimed, over-ripe tomatoes.
|Image from The Atlantic Wire|
But "there ain't no justice". Ryan is an indefatigable phony. He lies more than my cats, and I think they may be narcoleptic. In the coming days, his budget will be dissected line-by-line, and will be shown to be based on delusional assumptions, accounting gimmicks and intentional misrepresentation. Everyone who follows this stuff, and I mean everyone, knows this is the case. Certainly the Beltway media know it.
In fairness to Ryan, this budget isn't intended to be a serious contribution to the actual public policy process. It's a symbolic budget, released to legitimize the Republican Economic paradigm, and as an opening offer in the legislative bargaining process, and as the first step in Ryan's candidacy for the Presidency in 2016. Responsible observers of our political elites have already called bullshit on a number of its provisions.
|Image from the Washington Post's Wonkblog|
Responsible political observers within the Beltway are limited to a precious few. We are living in a "Tale of Two DC press corps", where it is simultaneously the best of times and the worst of times. We have Ezra Klein and Dave Weigel and Greg Sargent. We also have Dana Milbank and Thomas Friedman and Chuck Todd. I intentionally leave the explicitly partisan media, represented by FOX, the Daily Caller or the editorial page of the Wall St. Journal, out of this. They're not Beltway Media, they're part of the Conservative Scandal Machine.
The majority of the political press have treated Ryan's budget as though it is a serious contribution to our nation's policy dialogue. They haven't called him a "liar", or a "hypocrite" or a "charlatan", despite the fact that these are objective and justified adjectives for the author of this budget. To do so would be to violate a key value of the Beltway Community: False Equivalence.
|This and unlabeled images from Wikimedia Commons|
The Beltway policy community is an identity group composed of sub-communties, such as the political press, politicians, political staff, bureaucrats, lobbyists and a few academics. As with any identity group there are mores and values and conventions. There are elite and mass members. There are in-group and out-group identity markers allowing members to identify "us and "them". Status within the group is determined by how successfully a member epitomizes the group's values, and the group's values are communicated to the mass membership by the modeling of those values by the elites.
Key values within the Beltway are "success" "access" and "sophistication". Success is measured by one's status within one's occupational sub-community. A writer for TPM is less successful than a writer for the New York Times, and both are less successful than the White House correspondent for a major television network. The Chief of Staff for the Senate Majority leader is more prestigious than an intern for an obscure member of the House. Just ask Virginia Foxx.
|Congresswoman Virginia Foxx. I am informed that to claim she owns a gingerbread cottage is sexist, so I'll just call her a prick and leave it at that.|
The "sophistication" value is measured by the extent to which someone displays a world-weary cynicism regarding the entire process, and the motives of the people taking part in that process. Politicians come and go. Presidents come and go quickly. Staffers get recycled, and a bureaucrat, or a lobbyist may be a "lifer", having been an observer of the process for decades. Adding to this is the "revolving door" phenomenon, where (for example) a legislative staffer may become a lobbyist, and then be nominated to a position within the bureaucracy that oversees the industry for which they lobbied. After a career of lying to people to advance your agenda, and being lied to by people doing the same thing, after seeing the most crass personal motives wrapped in the flag of selfless patriotism, after seeing idealistic and charismatic leaders brought low by the most squalid personal failings...
one becomes "sophisticated". Everyone's a sell-out, everyone lies, and the "national interest"...
well, that's in the eye of the beholder, right?
|Image from Newsweek via Huffington Post|
You CAN'T call Paul Ryan a liar, because your editor would want to know if you could read Ryan's mind. Maybe he really believes this stuff? You can't call him a liar, because you're going to get an angry phone call from Ryan's staff. Or worse... your PUBLISHER might get an angry call from John Boehner. You can't call Ryan a liar because Republicans will spread the word that you're a bad guy, and you'll never get another quote again. You'll lose access. You can't call Ryan a liar, because that would imply that perhaps someone in DC was telling the truth. Your friends will make jokes about your naiveté, people will call you a "lightweight" behind your back, and you'll never, ever get invited to one of Cokie Roberts' cocktail parties again.
The Beltway community, and the media that is an important element of that community is deeply invested in the "equivalency" narrative. The mass migration of the Republican Party away from the center and towards the radical right of the ideological spectrum has undermined any basis this narrative ever had in fact. The GOP has been captured by ideological purists to whom compromise is anathema and for whom contradiction is treasonous. The parties are NOT the same; one of them is led by crazy people and one of them is not. But to acknowledge that fact would undercut "equivalency".
The Beltway HAS to pretend Ryan is a serious figure. He's the closest thing the Republicans have to one.
Post Script: My delightful and wise editor tells me the tone of this post is too personal. I disagree. The whole point of this post is that Paul Ryan is an unethical liar subordinating the national interests to his own career intentions. There aren't enough people willing to say so, directly. He doesn't have a different viewpoint. He doesn't see things differently. This isn't an honest disagreement about the facts from equally well-intentioned parties. Paul Ryan is a shameless and inveterate liar, and anyone who glosses over that central point is doing a disservice to the country. The young Republican prince has no clothes.
|Image from Wonkette|