10.02.2010

"silly talk and distortion and demagoguery"

As I read Politico's piece on how Democrats are using Paul Ryan's Road Map as a foil on the campaign trail, I thought of terms I would use to describe the twisted logic.  A page or so later, Ryan was quoted using some of the same words to describe the attacks - the words in the post title.

The Democratic response - and the Republican cold shoulder - to Paul Ryan's effort to lay out a plan that addresses underlying, systemic entitlement problems is quite telling.  In one way, it explains the Tea Party phenomenon - citizens have risen up and engaged because both parties have failed to rein in spending, entitlement programs, debt, and growth of government in any meaningful way over the past few decades.  Ryan's own record is far from perfect on these fronts, as Nick Schweitzer has often pointed out.

But in a different way, the Tea Party response is not enough.  Yes, I'm tired of people panning the "Party of No" and getting away with it.  Sometimes we need a Party of No because our country was founded on a need to curb the excesses of the state's power.  And oftentimes, a Party of Yes, even if cloaked in altruism and good intentions, is the absolute worst and most irresponsible approach to running a nation.  But speaking practically, it would be electorally and politically difficult to achieve a sort of Tea Party dream - to eliminate big spending items, like entitlement programs, overnight.

That's where Ryan's "legitimate proposal" is crucial, regardless of how it jibes with his votes in the past.  It actually cuts to the core problems that make our government unsustainable.  And, as I've said, it's actually highly concessionary because it stipulates to the continued existence of some form of a welfare state.  In that sense, Ryan's Road Map fills the gap between the vigorous, flinty opposition of the Tea Party and the realities of entrenched power and bureaucratic and electorate-driven inertia.  It's not perfect because no interested party gets everything it wants.  The Road Map is a painfully slow solution as it reduces the deficit over the course of multiple decades.  And it moves social security, for example, toward a more sustainable path where individuals are asked to shoulder more responsibility for their own retirement plans.  But it does not do so instantly or dramatically - instead, from what I can tell, it gives more than adequate notice to people by giving them multiple years to prepare for the transition.

The Republican failure to even speak openly about the Road Map - and the idea that the new Pledge may actually increase the deficit over time - shows just how short-sighted the party is at the moment in too many ways.  The GOP may recapture power this fall, but it needs to be more than vitriol when it's in charge.  It can be the Party of No, but it needs to be the intelligent, substantive version - the form that builds for long-term success by proving to Independents that it's vastly more responsible, that it has seen its own flaws play out far too many times.

The Democratic bashing of Ryan's plan, however, is much more pitiful.  It's far too easy - hey, let's scare the old folks nationwide into thinking the GOP is going to take away their only source of income.  Demagoguery is really the right word for it.  It reveals a desperation born of a failure by the national party to realize that its blame-Bush emphasis and health care kick were massive canards that distracted focus from the immediate problems facing the country.  If Democrats, including President Obama, can't even manage a rational engagement with Ryan's plan in the face of the clear and deep-seated problems we're facing, our nation's leadership is truly in denial, and we are going to suffer deeply for such shortsighted foolhardiness.

Paul Ryan may be standing alone on an island at this point.  He may seem isolated and marginalized.  But I don't think he should worry all that much.  Sometimes it's best to be the lone sane voice in an ocean of madness.  A people will call upon their prophet in the wilderness when it's discovered he was on to something all along.