Paul Krugman today responds to a particularly inane column
by William Saletan, one that I had planned to talk about yesterday but didn't. In this piece, Saletan tries to install Paul Ryan as an official member of the Serious Persons Club:
Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals.
Nope. He really is just another Tea-Party ideologue. As for the alleged number-crunching -- well, here's Jacob Weisberg, as quoted by Krugman:
His plan projects an absurd future, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in which all discretionary spending, now around 12 percent of GDP, shrinks to 3 percent of GDP by 2050. Defense spending alone was 4.7 percent of GDP in 2009. With numbers like that, Ryan is more an anarchist-libertarian than honest conservative.
This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.
So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers himself? Of course not. What he’s doing – and what the whole Beltway media crowd has done – is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he’s a hard-core conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman’s, who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.
I'd say that the situation is even worse. Saletan wants to induce political hypnosis.
I don't know if you've ever seen actual hypnotic induction, but the process takes a lot longer in real life than in the movies. After repeating certain verbal images for an hour or so, the hypnotist can create a false reality. The subject may even be implanted with false memories, which will linger long after the trance has ended.
That's what Saletan is up to. He writes:
Maybe, like me, you were raised in a liberal household. You don’t agree with conservative ideas on social or foreign policy. But this is why God made Republicans: to force a reality check when Democrats overpromise and overspend.
Democrats overspend? Democrats
overspend? Did this fool just say that DEMOCRATS overspend?
Wake up. Break the trance. Cast off your false memories. The next four paragraphs will tell you what actually happened...
1. Ronald Reagan came into office promising fiscal responsibility. He then ran up a national debt exceeding that of all previous presidents combined
2. George H.W. Bush made the deficit substantially worse.
3. When Bill Clinton left office, the government was in the black and the national dialogue focused on the question of what to do with the surplus
. Remember those days?
4. Under George W. Bush, the nation promptly went back into the red. Dick Cheney said: "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
As the more honest Libertarians will confess, pork spending skyrocketed during the Dubya years -- especially in the red states. Generally speaking, the productive blue states sent in more tax money than they received in goods and services, while the red states (especially in our useless south) were leeches. The Republicans stole from California and New York to feed the ungrateful pigs of Dixie.
The Iraq war -- the great elephant-in-the-living-room of recent history -- cost more than THREE TRILLION DOLLARS, according to the Washington Post.
The true cost of the Wall Street bailouts remains unknown. We do know that the Bush administration committed to propping up banks that could have been purchased outright for much less money. As all readers of Matt Taibbi's Griftopia
(just one volume in a small library of works on the great debacle) can tell you, the crisis occurred only because conservatives refused to regulate the scammers who bundled together crap-backed loans and sold them as AAA-rated financial instruments. While Bush's SEC looked the other way, the fat cats and the scamsters paid off the lawmakers to rewrite the rules -- and conservatives snubbed all liberals who proposed ways to fix this culture of legalized graft.
As for the situation today: If ideologues like Ryan would allow tax rates and government employment rates to return to Reagan-era levels, jobs would be plentiful, the deficit would go down (given modest reductions in defense spending), and Medicare and Social Security would keep bubbling along as before.
Yet William Saletan, in defiance of all history and all logic, joins with the voices who chant the mantra "Democrats overspend." Nothing backs this all-too-common misperception except the constant repetition of lies.
If we allow hypnotists like Saletan to recite this induction script, eventually they'll have you thinking you're a chicken.