Earlier today Laura Clawson had a post up about some Republicans who are vaguely aware they are - how to put this - perceived as heartless beaters-up of the poors. Well, Paul Ryan to the rescue with ideas on how to 'reform' the government's approach to poverty programs.
NOTE: Whenever a Republican starts talking about 'reform', put your hands on your wallet and batten down the hatches; it's one of the favorite labels they like to put on their most toxic brands of snake oil. In their hands, that word does not mean what they want you to think it means.
More below the Orange Omnilepticon.
Ezra Klein for one is excited: Democrats should welcome Paul Ryan's poverty plan.
...There will be charges of hypocrisy against Ryan's plan, and they're merited: his poverty plan and his budget cannot coexist in the same universe at the same time. Conservatives who spent the last few years cheering Ryan's budget and are now cheering his poverty policies need to ask themselves some hard questions.Let's pull out one phrase especially worthy of examination: ...Ryan is refocusing himself and, perhaps, the Republican Party on reducing poverty by making the government's anti-poverty programs work better...
But more important than the contradictions in Ryan's plans is their progression: Ryan is refocusing himself and, perhaps, the Republican Party on reducing poverty by making the government's anti-poverty programs work better: that's a project that's both more important for the country and more amenable to compromise. Democrats should welcome it.
I hope you weren't drinking anything while reading that bit of fatuous optimism. How anyone could make an assertion like that after the last few years boggles the mind. Paul Krugman has observed this phenomenon before and commented thusly back in 2012:
...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.Klein is right that conservatives are cheering Ryan's plan. Ross Douthat is totally gung ho about the whole deal: the Republican Party has ideas again!
What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.
...The emerging policy vision on the right only coheres and makes (at least some) fiscal sense because it includes proposals to change Medicare and (from leading politicians like Ryan and Marco Rubio, if not from the party as a whole) Social Security as well. A center-left analogue would need to come to grips more fully with the long-term cost of the liberal vision, and the need, eventually at least, for new taxes on someone other than the rich.Douthat is letting the cat out of the bag here; a translation into plain speak is: we can keep saying Democrats can't do anything without raising taxes sooner or later - and this plan gives Republicans a new framework to keep cutting back on social programs.
In this sense, you could argue, Ryan’s leadership on entitlement reform in 2010-2011 effectively created the policy space on the right where Ryan (and others) are working at the moment, while liberalism’s leaders still haven’t taken the hard, higher-tax steps required to make their side’s more sweeping post-Obama policy ideas actually add up.
Kevin Drum has taken a quick look, and summarizes the three main elements of Ryan's plan with a promise to come back later with a more detailed analysis. His initial take is:
...Overall, my initial reaction is that I like the idea of more rigorously testing different anti-poverty approaches, but I'm pretty skeptical of Ryan's obvious preference for eventually eliminating most federal anti-poverty programs and simply sending the money to the states as block grants. This is a longtime conservative hobbyhorse, and not because states are models of efficiency. They like it because it restricts spending, especially during recessions when federal entitlement programs automatically increase but block grants don't. That may please the tea party set, but it's bad for poor people and it's bad for the economy, which benefits from countercyclical spending during economic downturns.emphasis added
Now as those of us who went through a parallel debate over “federalism” or “devolution” back in the 1970s can attest, there are block grants that simply consolidate programs while continuing to insist on the use of funds for certain broad purposes, and there are block grants that really just abandon policy-making to states and localities, usually as a way station to the abolition of federal funding altogether. The block grants in Paul Ryan’s original budgets appeared to be of the second variety, aimed primarily at reducing federal fiscal obligations. For the Opportunity Grant to be taken seriously, it would have to be of the first type.emphasis added
Paul Krugman, a long time critic of Ryan's supposed budget expertise is more blunt.
...It’s not just that this plan is completely inconsistent with his budget proposals, and that he has given no indication of how he would resolve this inconsistency. It’s not just that the methods he proposes, especially block-granting, have in the past simply been back-door ways to slash aid to the poor — which is what his budgets involve, after all. And it’s not just that everything he has said about the causes of and cures for poverty is all wrong.The real coup de grace comes from Charles P. Pierce, with his masterful Zombie-Eyed Granny Starving, 2.0 Pierce ties Ryan's proposals all the way back to their historic and philosophical roots in the British Inclosure Acts (1750-1860) and sharecropping in the post Civil War south. He further observes:
No, it’s also the fact that Ryan’s previous proposals — all of them — were con jobs. It’s four years since he was challenged to explain the magic asterisk in his original budget proposal — how he could slash tax rates for the wealthy and corporations without reducing revenue. He has never explained it; all he’s done is put in more magic asterisks on discretionary spending and more.
So the question isn’t why or even whether you should trust him — you shouldn’t, period.
One must never forget when discussing anything Paul Ryan says about economics that he fundamentally does not believe that the care of the poor and the sick is a legitimate function of government. This belief is theological. It is the basis for his entire political career. And it has not changed. This is a philosophy he developed while going to high school and college on my dime and yours through Social Security survivor benefits, and you're welcome again, dickhead. Anybody who thinks Paul Ryan has "changed" in any substantive way should not be allowed out in public without a minder. In this recent scam, the tells are scattered everywhere, and they are obvious, and you don't even have to know that the more "compassionate" of his proposals don't have fk all chance of getting through the monkeyhouse Congress in which he is a leader. He knows that, too.
Pierce concludes with:
...But it is that last part that gives the game away. Ryan suggests that, in return for the shrinking benefits available to them through the "opportunity grants," poor Americans bind themselves to a "contract" regarding how they live their lives: "a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success...sanctions for breaking the terms of the contract."I would sincerely hope that careful readers will take time to check out all of the links in the above compilation of pieces about Ryan's latest con job - but most especially Pierce. Read The Whole Thing.
Paternalism doesn't change through the ages. It just dresses differently. And there, ultimately, is Paul Ryan's new political persona. He's the poor person's landlord, enclosing the fields. He's the man who brought sharecropping to the welfare state.