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The moving middle moves again

The following tells you all you need to know about today’s media. It consists of the first two paragraphs from a column absurdly titled Common Sense, by James Stewart in the business section of the New York Times.


This week, President Obama called him a social Darwinist. The conservative Club for Growth criticized him for wimping out on Medicare and military spending, and Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican, blasted him for not cutting tax rates more deeply.

I figure Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is head of the House Budget Committee, must be doing something right.

If there is any sense in these two paragraphs, it is of the non kind, rather than the common. It would be nonsensical in any context. There is no reason to believe that someone attacked by both “sides” on a question is therefore closer to being correct than either, or that he or she is doing “something right”. It is particulary nonsensical regarding the Ryan budget.


As has been demonstrated ad nauseaum, Ryan’s plan doesn’t add up even on its own terms. It is balanced only if one assumes that Ryan can find tax loopholes to close that will equal the gigantic tax breaks to the rich that Ryan proposes. Ryan himself won’t identify a single such loophole, so the depths of his dishonesty is clear. If adopted, the plan is a recipe for outsize deficits as far as the eye can see. The fact that there is a right wing group attacking him does not give his plan an ounce of credibility; it merely means that there are groups on the right fulfilling their historic role: pushing the Republican party ever farther to the right and in the process, by the way, providing the cover that they know people like Stewart will deliver. As to the Social Darwinist remark, it is absolutely accurate. If Ryan’s proposal became law, and were implemented as he suggests it would be, all programs designed to help the poor and middle class would be eliminated.


The fact that Obama is “on the left”, a statement most of us lefties consider to be a joke, does not mean that his criticisms were invalid. They were not. They were accurate. As the math shows, Ryan’s budget would result in the extinguishment of the federal government, except for defense, health care, and social security by 2050. Obama’s statements regarding Ryan’s budget were objectively true. His characterization of the plan as Social Darwinism is accurate. The fact that Ryan is under attack from the “left” and the right does not make his plan any more credible. Stewart’s opening paragraphs do, however, perfectly encapsulate the attitude of our modern media. It matters not where the truth actually lies, for today’s media it lies at a midpoint between two media defined extremes, the right extreme being as far right as one can imagine, the left extreme being so close to the right that a common sense notion like single payer is not even on the continuum.

UPDATE: Methinks Paul Krugman may be referring to Stewart (Brooks and Douthat, too) in this post, discussing Ryan’s defenders, though he’s too polite to publicly name or shame fellow Timesmen:

What’s going on here? The defenders of Ryan come, I’d argue, in two types.

One type is the pseudo-reasonable apparatchik. There are a fair number of pundits who make a big show of debating the issues, stroking their chins, and then — invariably — find a way to support whatever the GOP line may be. There’s no mystery in their support for Ryan.

The other type is more interesting: the professional centrist. These are people whose whole pose is one of standing between the extremes of both parties, and calling for a bipartisan solution. The problem they face is how to maintain this pose when the reality is that a quite moderate Democratic party — one that is content to leave tax rates on the rich far below those that prevailed for most of the past 70 years, that has embraced a Republican health care plan — faces a radical-reactionary GOP.

What these people need is reasonable Republicans. And if such creatures don’t exist, they have to invent them. Hence the elevation of Ryan — who is, in fact, a garden-variety GOP extremist, but with a mild-mannered style — to icon of fiscal responsibility and honest argument, despite the reality that his proposals are both fiscally irresponsible and quite dishonest.

UPDATE 2: Since Obama is routinely attacked from both the left (see, e.g., his failure to support single payer) and the right (see, e.g., everything he does) why don’t the pundits draw the conclusion that he must be “doing something right” instead of the more common conclusion that the left is irrelevant and he’s being insufficiently bipartisan by not caving to the right?


UPDATE 3: Everyone is piling on. See here and here, and these are only examples. I may not be the best, but I think I got there first.


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