Not being one to even balance his checkbook, I was completely at a loss when I read Jonathan Martin’s article this morning, Paul Ryan’s Disappearing Act. In it, he writes, “Ryan’s admirers say it’s unfair to suggest he’s merely a green eyeshade Republican.” What the hell is a green eyeshade?
Wikipedia to the rescue. According to it, “Green eyeshades are a type of visor that were worn most often from the late 19th century to the middle 20th century by accountants, telegraphers, copy editors and others engaged in vision-intensive, detail-oriented occupations.” Ah, I see now! This has to do with all the people who claim that Ryan is some kind of uber-wonk: just a man who wants to balance our budget.
I’ve written endlessly about the fact that Paul Ryan is no budget wonk. He isn’t, in fact, even interested in balancing the budget. Here’s a good rule of thumb to determine if a proposal is really about balancing the budget:
1. Is a big part of the proposal lowering income tax rates?
2. If you answered “yes” then the proposal is not about balancing the budget.
Not only are all of Ryan’s proposals not about balancing the budget, neither are Simpson-Bowles or any of the “Fix the Debt” proposals. This should not come as a shock. For the last three decades, conservatives have been using the big bad budget deficit to justify doing what they wanted to do anyway. Remember Ronald Reagan getting into office by screaming about budget deficits? Remember how he went on to explode those deficits, even during a booming economy? It’s the Republican way!
Jonathan Chait has a nice bit of history about Paul Ryan this morning. He demonstrates that all of Paul Ryan’s recent branding was just a show. He has always been a supply-sider. He even quotes Paul Ryan during his years in Congress during Bush’s terms, complaining that Bush wasn’t busting the deficit more:
In other words, “I am a hardcore supply-sider!”
But this all raises an important question: why did anyone ever thing Paul Ryan was a budget wonk? He didn’t put together actual budgets as it was. He just claimed that somehow we would cut X% out of spending without ever saying what. What’s more, it should have been clear from the start (and it was to many of us), that all his pretend budget wonkery was only about cutting taxes. It leaves me only with the Brad DeLong lament, “Why, oh why, can’t we have a better press corpse?”