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May 16, 2011 12:40 PM The sales pitch isn’t the problem

By Steve Benen

For the first time in years, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R) is starting to feel some heat. The far-right Wisconsin lawmaker is accustomed to being treated as his party’s Golden Boy, but lately, his budget plan — most notably his vision for ending Medicare — has caused him no shortage of trouble. This includes Ryan seeing his own caucus’ leaders back away from his agenda.

But Ryan is confident he can get back on his feet, and intends to go on the offensive this week. It started this morning with a tired op-ed filled with far-right cliches, and will continue this afternoon, in a speech in Chicago filled with far-right cliches.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), in text for luncheon speech of Chicago Economic Club: “Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics. Redistributing wealth never creates more of it. Sowing social unrest and class envy makes America weaker, not stronger. Playing one group against another only distracts us from the true sources of inequity in this country — corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.”

First, when the right complains about “class warfare,” it’s evidence of lazy thinkers who are feeling desperate. Second, if Ryan’s worried about class envy pitting groups against one another, he probably ought to re-read his own plan: “[T]he Ryan plan does impose huge sacrifice on the poor and the middle class, while cutting taxes on the rich and corporations.”

It’s worth noting, of course, that Ryan’s desperation is understandable. Ezra Klein had a good item this morning:

At this point, more prospective Republican presidential candidates have endorsed some form of an individual mandate — Romney in his state, Gingrich nationally — than have endorsed Ryan’s Medicare plan. In fact, Gingrich has come out against Ryan’s Medicare plan, calling it “right-wing social engineering.” John Boehner has walked back his support for it, saying he is “not wedded to one single idea.” Michele Bachmann says she’s “concerned about shifting the cost burden to senior citizens.” Ryan’s plan appears to have turned a special election in an extremely Republican district into a dead heat.

I’d just add that Ryan seems to be aware of all of this, but misunderstands the nature of the backlash. He sees the polls and his party moving away from him, but Ryan thinks he can put things right if he just starts explaining his plan a little better. That’s why he was booed by his own constituents, Ryan assumes. They just didn’t understand how great he and his plan really are.

I’m sure that’s a comforting assumption. Ryan assumes he’s a brilliant but misunderstood artist, and it’s the audience’s fault for not wanting to buy his masterpiece. Maybe if he just explains it to us one more time, we’ll all be really impressed.

Once in a while, politicians are more or less justified in thinking this way. During the fight over health care reform, polls showed Americans rejecting the Democratic plan, but strongly approving of the ideas within the plan. Large numbers of Americans had been convinced the reform agenda was awful, without knowing what it was they were against.

But this isn’t one of those cases, and Paul’s assumption that his issues are purely a matter of public relations is just wrong. His agenda is failing because it’s a callous, ridiculous approach, built on fraudulent data. All the speeches and op-eds in the world won’t change that.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

  • TRNC on May 16, 2011 12:46 PM:

    "Ryan assumes he’s a brilliant but understood artist,..."

    You mean misunderstood. Other than that, spot on as usual.

  • john sherman on May 16, 2011 12:46 PM:

    If there is a class war going on, one side is taking all the casualties, and it's not the upper. I notice that the AFL-CIO day commemorating workers killed and injured got zero press coverage.

  • iyoumeweus on May 16, 2011 12:49 PM:

    MEDICARE
    The Republicans want to abolish Medicare and create in its place a private health care system. Such a change will result in seniors being once again at the mercy of private insurance companies or their families, as I remember my grandparents were. The Republican program will result in seniors paying for: health advertisements they do not need; CEO salaries far above what public sector managers receive campaign contributions to Congressmen like Tom Reed; lobbying expenses to remove government rules, regulations and restrictions as well as corporate profits.
    The Republican plan is immoral and unethical. Programs like Medicare and Social Security should be strengthened not cut. The federal budget should not be balanced on the backs of our youth, our poor, our seniors, our veterans or our middle class workers.

  • Kathryn on May 16, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Congressman Ryan has soaked up too much of the beltway press drooling over his bravery, workout regimen, blue, blue eyes, etc. and has lost whatever objectivity he ever possessed. And frankly, these Ayn Rand acolytes, seem impervious to facts or any alternate way of thinking. One wonders how smart they actually are and that includes Alan Greenspan, who was so under the libertarian spell that he could not conceive of the greed and recklessness on Wall Street that caused the recession.

  • Texas Aggie on May 16, 2011 12:51 PM:

    “Class warfare may be clever politics, but it is terrible economics. "

    That is so true, but the day that the republicans stop their war on the middle and working classes won't come any time soon. There was a sign in Madison that said, "It's only a war if we fight back." Ryan is upset that the underdogs are fighting back

    While he may claim that he's not engaged in class warfare (and that pigs actually can fly), he needs to explain how his program would be any different if he were so engaged.

  • Dennis on May 16, 2011 12:53 PM:

    Ryan's salesmanship of his flawed Medicare/tax cutting plan reminds me of the Bush Administration's campaign for it's Social Security partial privatization scheme back in 2005. The Bushies for months thought the problem was the sales campaign rather than the substance of the proposal. Bush and his allies continued to try to sell the plan to a skeptical public and support for the plan decreased the more Bush tried to explain it. I predict a similar trajectory and fate for the Ryan Medicare/tax cutting plan.

  • jjm on May 16, 2011 12:59 PM:

    So the upshot of the GOP's horrendous strategy to kill the economy in order to kill Obama's reelection chances is this: today's polls show that most people don't like Obama's handling of the economyAND YET

    59% SAY OBAMA DESERVES RE-ELECTION.

    Translation: this has got to mean that people think Obama hasn't stood up enough to the Republicans, who are hell-bent, as all can see, on ruining the economy so he won't be re-elected.

    Looks like the Republicans have another think coming. The people know just who is trying to wreck our economy in order to make political hay and they are not buying what the GOP is selling.

    Failed strategy! Their 'salesmanship' isn't working. They fully believe that there is no reality, only 'messaging.' And yet here we are, with a truth that they cannot hide with messaging.

  • Ron Byers on May 16, 2011 1:00 PM:

    The line about talk about class warfare but the line that is truly Orwellian is " Redistributing wealth never creates more of it." If that is the case why is it that instead of using the money saved from gutting medicare he gives it the rich in the form of even lower taxes.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on May 16, 2011 1:03 PM:

    Ryan has spent altogether too much time spanking li'l Paul to a portrait of Ayn Rand. Someone should tell him that when it came down to it, Rand had no trouble using those Medicare bennies.

  • paul on May 16, 2011 1:10 PM:

    I'm confused. Every sentence in that text from Ryan explains why we should elect democrats instead of republicans. Look at the GOP records: Class warfare, check. Redistributing wealth, check. Sowing unrest, check. Pitting one group against another, check. Corporate welfare and betraying the powerless, double-check.

    If he actually believed any of those things, he'd be voting to lift the debt limit, throwing out his own budget proposal, and voting to kill oil-company subsidies.

    In short, the only thing worse than republicans using tired right-wing cliches is republicans lifting left-wing cliches without breaking into uncontrollable guffaws.

  • low-tech cyclist on May 16, 2011 1:19 PM:

    From Paul Ryan's op-ed that Steve links to:

    There is widespread, bipartisan agreement that the open-ended, fee-for-service structure of Medicare is a key driver of health-care cost inflation. Medicare is not the train being pulled along by the engine of rising costs. Medicare is the engine and the rest of us are getting taken for a ride.

    That's a lie, plain and simple. There is no such general agreement. In fact, per the Kaiser Foundation, "[g]overnment programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, account for a significant share of health care spending, but they have increased at a slower rate than private insurance."

    Bet the rest of it isn't a whole lot more factual.

  • SYSPROG on May 16, 2011 1:25 PM:

    They.do.not.get.it...they have been lying so long, living in their little bubbles that they might actually believe their shtick. Ryan keeps writing/talking that so-an-so agrees with me and that person does not. Bipartisan agreement? Nope didn't happen. Newt? This morning says 'Judge me on my ability, not my past'...really? When did THAT start? They don't even acknowledge that the aged and the poor exist so why would they think people don't agree with their plans? And the media lets them on TV, 8-1, and don't call them on ANYTHING.

  • sparrow on May 16, 2011 1:27 PM:

    Ryan is like a guy beating a dead horse and thinks that if he just yells, "Get up" louder, it will get up on its feet and come along. Then again, I've never met any Any Rand bot that didn't treat her ideas as if they were absolutely incontravertible by any an all truly sentient beings.

  • SYSPROG on May 16, 2011 1:32 PM:

    They.do.not.get.it...they have been lying so long, living in their little bubbles that they might actually believe their shtick. Ryan keeps writing/talking that so-an-so agrees with me and that person does not. Bipartisan agreement? Nope didn't happen. Newt? This morning says 'Judge me on my ability, not my past'...really? When did THAT start? They don't even acknowledge that the aged and the poor exist so why would they think people don't agree with their plans? And the media lets them on TV, 8-1, and don't call them on ANYTHING.

  • c u n d gulag on May 16, 2011 1:42 PM:

    I guess "Ryan's Hope" didn't appeal to 'the old and the restless.'

  • Lifelong Dem on May 16, 2011 1:47 PM:

    Ryan thinks he'll convert the masses with a speech in Chicago on the day that Rahm Emmanuel is being inaugurated as mayor? He thinks anyone will notice his speech?

  • Ron Byers on May 16, 2011 1:48 PM:

    How about "The Old and The Rest Of Us?"

  • Joe Friday on May 16, 2011 1:52 PM:

    RYAN: "Redistributing wealth never creates more of it."

    He and the rest of the Republican party should have thought of this BEFORE they redistributed the wealth UPWARD during Reagan and the Bushies, and BEFORE Ryan proposed redistributing the wealth even more within his proposed budget plan.

    What Ryan is objecting to is those that want to RE-redistribute the wealth.

  • Rick B on May 16, 2011 1:56 PM:

    I'd say that Ryan shows a number of characteristics of Narcissistic Personality Disorder even just through public reports of his utterances in the media. These seem to be met:

    5. Has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations.

    7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.

    9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

  • SaintZak on May 16, 2011 3:22 PM:

    "Ryan is like a guy beating a dead horse"

    Ryan is beating the only horse he's got. The other Republicans can try to sneak away from him and his budget, but he's stuck with it. It might as well be tattooed on his forehead. The GOP has invested quite a lot in him, it will be interesting to see how long they stick with him.

    Ok, I posted this here last week...now he has a crush on Paul Ryan. It's pretty funny. The second post down. I'm sure Ryan would be thrilled.

    http://caballoblue.com/vampiresblog

  • bdop4 on May 16, 2011 3:48 PM:

    "First, when the right complains about “class warfare,” it’s evidence THAT THEY ARE ENGAGING IN IT."

    There, fixed it for ya.

  • exlibra on May 16, 2011 4:43 PM:

    [...]the true sources of inequity in this country — corporate welfare that enriches the powerful, and empty promises that betray the powerless.” -- from Paul Ryan's proposed speech

    That sounds about right to me, even though the rest is the same-old, same-old, Repub propaganda claptrap. Is this a piece from an entirely different jigsaw puzzle (or Captcha), or am I misreading it?

    "clatit has" I think it is Captcha for "IT is and HAS always been CLApTrap."

  • Schtick on May 16, 2011 5:59 PM:

    Why do they want to give tax breaks to corporations and the rich when they pay little, if any, taxes now? Oh wait, I get it. They keep giving them tax breaks, then they raise their tax rate, but they STILL don't pay any taxes because of the tax breaks. Smart move.

  • Doug on May 16, 2011 9:02 PM:

    My personal understanding of Republican/Teabagger "thought processes" regarding taxes is:
    a) The Republican/Teabaggers, having won the House in 2010, believe that a "majority" of the country supported them and their proposals. That the present "tax" plan is a complete refutation of what those members of Congress campaigned on doesn't matter. They won, didn't they?
    b) A basic tenet of what Republican/Teabaggers say they believe is that one pays for what one gets.
    c) As most of those who are really, really really stinking rich, won't need Medicare and/or Social Security, why should they pay for them?
    d) However, the current tax system often REQUIRES the (I'm NOT typing that again!) rich to pay at least SOME taxes into Medicare and Social Security. Therefore:
    e) Since high taxes to support programs that don't benefit those being taxed isn't FAIR, then cutting tax rates for the rich, and raising them for the middle and lower classes must be FAIR! That's just (Republican/Teabagger) logic, isn't it? And finally:
    f) We won, so we can change the rules when we want! Can't we Mommy?

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