Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Build it and they will come. Post it and they will provide you with examples. [updated]

Remember last week when we were talking about Strauss and the cult of the savvy ? Do you remember how we singled out Paul Ryan as a subject on which journalists continue to delude themselves?

If so, the following by political correspondent Jon Ward will seem a lot more relevant.
On issues, Trump and Ryan are on different sides of some core issues: trade, entitlement spending, and immigration. Trump demonized free trade deals during the campaign. Ryan has been a big advocate for free trade. Trump has vowed not to change Medicare or Social Security. Ryan has long described those programs as driving the national debt, and wants to overhaul them.

Trump has disparaged immigrants, instituted travel restrictions from seven predominantly Muslim countries via an executive order last week, and slammed a federal judge last summer for bias because he was of “Mexican heritage.” Ryan rebuked Trump for the latter comment, saying it was “the textbook definition of a racist comment.” Ryan has tried to work toward a solution to the nation’s problem with illegal immigration, unlike Trump, who has merely denounced the government for not fixing the problem. As president, Trump will find that solving problems is far more difficult than complaining about them.

The two men also have a fundamental different approaches to the role of government and guidance of the U.S. Constitution. Ryan comes from a political and deeply conservative background, and so he believes in the Constitution’s prescriptions for how the government should work. Among other things, the Constitution clearly limits the president’s authority and hems in the office. Trump comes from a nonpolitical background, is not known for reading much of anything, and it’s not clear whether he’s ever actually read the Constitution. He made many statements throughout the presidential campaign that promised unconstitutional actions, and often issued vague threats to people who criticized him. If he were to continue this kind of behavior in office, it would be more fitting for a third world dictator than for a U.S. president, and at some point, Congress would need to step in. Ryan is the leader of one half of Congress. He believes in the American system. It is far from clear that the new president does.

As people who have followed his career closely (such as Paul Krugman, Josh Marshall, and Jonathan Chait) are quick to point out, Paul Ryan's rhetoric on the deficit is completely and consistently contradicted by his voting record. Even though Ryan was compelled to distance himself from Randianism when it became a significant political liability, he continues to reliably support the tenets when it comes to progressive taxation and the social safety net (which he still sometimes describes in the language of a hammock rather than a net). This even applies to programs such as Obamacare which are better than deficit neutral.

The case for Ryan as a champion of principled government is nearly as bad. This is someone who owes his position as speaker to gerrymandering and voter suppression, someone who has, at best, turned a blind eye to the use of government offices for partisan ends. As for the rest of the deep ideological divide, here's Jonathan Chait:
It is widely known that very few Republican elites share this Trumpist vision. What’s grown clear since the election is how little this matters. Traditional Republicans would prefer to build a coalition for their small-government policies that would attract immigrant communities, but they will take any coalition that presents itself. Paul Ryan’s professions of love for tolerance and openness before the election reflected the calculations of a politician who expected his nominee to lose and was planning to repair the anticipated damage to his party’s brand. The ideas that deeply troubled Ryan when articulated by a losing presidential candidate sound far more acceptable when articulated by a sitting president who promises to sign his fiscal bills. “People close to Ryan and the White House say the Speaker shares an easy rapport with Steve Bannon,” reports Politico.

Ward's entire piece is pretty much one long attempt to alleviate cognitive dissonance. He either has to admit to himself that he has been played for a sucker or he has to embrace a scenario, no matter how implausible, that allows him to preserve his dignity. You will notice that he goes all the way back to June of last year to find an example of Ryan (briefly) pushing back against Donald Trump. If you were following the campaign closely, you will remember that as a period when establishment Republicans were very nervous about the potential political cost of associating themselves with a controversial and seemingly doomed candidate. You will also remember that Trump subsequently slapped Ryan around and the congressman immediately fell into line.

"Centrist" pundits arguing that Paul Ryan obviously didn't say what Paul Ryan obviously just said has long been a cottage industry (consider this classic example from James Stewart of the New York Times), but as with so many things, the arrival of Donald Trump has made the absurdity of the practice difficult to ignore.


TPM reports the latest in the Ryan/Trump divide.
“We respect an independent judiciary. This is a separate branch of government,” Ryan said. “He’s not the first President to get frustrated with a ruling from a court.
“I think what’s most important are the actions,” he continued. “This administration is honoring the ruling, and this administration is going through the proper procedures to deal with the ruling to try and get the ruling overturned. They’re going through the appeals process, they’re respecting the separation of powers in the process. Look, I know he’s an unconventional President. He gets frustrated with judges, we get frustrated with judges. But he’s respecting the process, and that’s what counts at the end of the day.”
Trump lobbed multiple attacks on his Twitter account at U.S. District Judge James Robart after the judge blocked Trump’s immigration order. And White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Robart had gone “rogue” in stopping the order.

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