This morning, Jonathan Chait wrote that, Why Obama and Paul Ryan Will Never, Ever Agree. Basically, he claims that with the budget, the two sides are trying to solve different problems. I think it is all rather too complicated. He claims that Obama wants to do three things with the budget: (1) prevent retirement spending from crowding out other government spending; (2) delay cuts as much as possible until the economy is doing better; and (3) reduce the debt by reducing income inequality. This is not what Ryan wants out of the budget.
According to Chait, Ryan wants: (1) reduce all government spending; (2) make the budget cuts now because the deficit is suddenly a big urgent problem; and (3) increase income inequality to get money away from the takers and back to makers. I don’t particularly accept that this is the main dynamic. But even if it is, there is a middle ground.
I often wonder about my thinking regarding people like Paul Ryan. Can they really be as cynical as I think? Well: yes. In general, you can’t go wrong thinking that people are primarily motivated by making their own lives as comfortable as possible. The main thing with liberals (and even moderates like Obama) is that they retain some notion of social responsibility. They want to do well for themselves, their friends, and their “tribe” (for pretty much all people in power: their fellow rich people). But they don’t want to do it at the direct expense of the weaker members of society. For one thing: the guilt would be a real buzz kill.
For people like Paul Ryan, hurting the weak is part of the thrill. Despite what he claims, Christianity seems to have had no effect on Ryan’s thinking, but Ayn Rand certainly has. And the one thing that Rand hammers on more than anything else it is that altruism does not exist. (This is patently false, but what else is new?) What’s more, she teaches that altruism is wrong. (It is strange that she teaches that altruism is wrong when she claims it doesn’t even exist.) So Paul Ryan thinks forcing the weak to pull themselves up is the right thing to do.
But Chait is still wrong about the impasse and we can see this by looking at Obama’s position. Ryan wants to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Obama wants to shore up the budget at the expense of both the poor (a lot) and the wealthy (a little). The opposite of Ryan would be someone who wants to enrich the poor at the expense of the wealthy. So on this continuum, Obama is already way more than half way from the liberal position to the Ryan position.
So it is true that Obama and Ryan will never agree. But it isn’t because there is no center point. Obama has moved more and more toward Ryan. The only reason there is no compromise point is that Ryan and his conservative allies won’t compromise. And why should they? Through their intransigence, they push the debate further and further to the right.
As I wrote before, there are some thing that should not be open to compromise. Unfortunately, it seems it is only ever the conservatives who believe that:
It works like this. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill none. They argue. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill 10%. They argue. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill 25%. The media are exasperated, “Why can’t the Nazis and Social Democrats agree to compromise?!”
This is effectively what Chait is saying by not acknowledging that Obama is the compromise.