Let’s just go through some of the high points of Paul Ryan’s big speech today, which is called: “Saving the American Idea: Rejecting Fear, Envy and the Politics of Division.” Here’s the transcript as prepared for delivery.
To my great disappointment, it appears that the politics of division are making a big comeback. Many Americans share my disappointment...
I don’t know what Ryan means by “many,” but majorities of Americans completely reject this interpretation of what Obama and Dems are doing. A recent Fox News poll asked, leadingly, whether people think Obama’s “political strategy for reelection is designed to bring people together with a hopeful message” or to “drive people apart with a partisan message.” Fifty six percent chose the former; only 32 percent — Ryan’s “many” — chose the latter.
Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, quote, “dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.” Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?
Yes, I can: The entire premise of this very speech. The accusation that Obama and Dems are sowing “envy” and ”class warfare” because they’re taking modest steps to slow trends that have severely exacerbated inequality for decades is as petty and small minded as it gets. Politics is a tough business, and it’s supposed to be all about an aggressive clash of visions. Deal with it.
The President still has not put forward a credible plan to tackle the threat of ever-rising spending and debt, and it’s been over 900 days since his party passed a budget in the Senate.
The use of the term “credible” makes this into a matter of opinion, not fact. But that aside, has Ryan forgotten that Obama signed legislation — that passed the GOP-controlled House — creating a deficit supercommittee tasked with reaching very specific deficit-cutting goals?
He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.
Those “punitive tax hikes on jobs creators” would impact 1/500 of American taxpayers, and the surtaxes on millionaires to pay for individual provisions of Obama’s jobs bill would amount to a tiny percentage of the income of the wealthy, according to the Citizens for Tax Justice. (Ryan seems to be lumping these tax hikes in with some others to reach his conclusion, but the current policy debate is focused on the millionaire surtaxes.) A look at how Obama’s tax policies would actually impact the after-tax income of the rich renders the notion that they’re “punitive” laughable.
Is Obama “impugning the motives of Republicans”? Well, yes he is, and as I’ve argued, the motives of public officials are often tangled and it’s difficult to reach hard conclusions about them. But Mitch McConnell is on record saying his number one priority is to ensure that Obama is a one-term president, and he has acknowledged that Republicans deliberately adopted a political strategy of denying Obama bipartisan support for his proposals.
Obama quotes Reagan as saying that bus drivers shouldn’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires. Well, that’s a no-brainer. Nobody disagrees with that.
Wait, so does this mean one hundred percent of Republicans agree with the “Buffett Rule”? Now there’s some news!
Telling Americans they are stuck in their current station in life, that they are victims of circumstances beyond their control, and that government’s role is to help them cope with it — well, that’s not who we are. That’s not what we do.
Coming in the same speech where Ryan accused Dems of erecting “straw men,” this is almost comically cynical. More broadly, it’s a completely distorted version of the liberal argument, a ruse frequently employed by conservatives that’s designed to misrepresent liberalism as anti-individualist, when it’s nothing of the sort.
Indeed, in his climax, Ryan accuses Dems of “moving away” from a belief in “equality of opportunity,” and “towards an insistence on equality of outcome,” adding that Dems are guilty of “a false morality that confuses fairness with redistribution, and promotes class envy instead of social mobility.” But this has nothing in common with the liberal Democratic vision. Most liberal Democrats explicitly reject the false choice Ryan has offered here. Whether you agree with them or not, most liberal Democrats believe that government should do what it can to preserve or enhance individual opportunity and mobility, while simultaneously believing that goverment and the safety net should be paid for by tax system that’s more progressive than the one we currently have. We can argue over whether these things are desirable or attainable, but Ryan is simply misleading people about what liberals believe.
In sum, Ryan’s entire speech rests on a premise that’s completely false. But he’s Very Serious!
UPDATE: Zaid Jilani has lots more on the fundamental truths about wealth inequality that Ryan refuses to acknowledge.