Jonathan Chait

The Persecution Of Paul Ryan

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The Wall Street Journal has an editorial today whose headline, "Washington vs. Paul Ryan," captures its basic contention that the the poor right-wing congressman is being ganged up on and maligned by the establishment. It's a fairly odd premise. Ryan has been riding months of slobbering praise from the conservative press. I realize that doesn't count, because "Washington" in conservative-speak is an epithet that by definition excludes conservatives.

So, working within the conservative movement's definition of "Washington," let us tally up the litany of Ryan's persecution:

  1. He was the subject of a flattering Washington Post profile about the boldness of his plan that featured no policy analysts pointing out that the Ryan plan would increase the deficit over the next decade even if its wildly implausible spending caps were implemented.
  2. The same day he was the subject of a flattering New York Times profile that expounded the same theme and suffered from the same cripplinng flaw.
  3. Then Paul Krugman wrote an opinion column pointing out some of the massively misleading or unrealistic aspects of Ryan's alleged plan to balance the budget.
  4. Next my friend Ted Gayer, who runs the economic department at Brookings, wrote an item defending Ryan on the grounds that he means well and deserves to be granted an extreme benefit of the doubt when judging the massive flaws in his plan.
  5. Then Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein wrote a blog item also vouching for Ryan's character and good faith.
  6. Then today, the Times wrote another story about Ryan, saying he'd be the perfect person to negotiate a balanced budget with, regardless whether his plan really would balance the budget or massively increase it.

Is this really a picture of Washington ganging up on Ryan? It seems just the opposite. He is being embraced and defended by the establishment and credited with good intentions that are not at all manifest in his record or in his proposal, with one opinion columnist being the sole dissenting voice.

Now, maybe those defenses are right. I don't think they are -- even if you accept Ryan's crazily optimistic assumptions about everything, his plan would increase the deficit over the next decade. Getting a free pass time and time again because everybody knows your heart is in the right place is the sign of a man who has been fully embraced by the establishment.

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