This morning, a hole opened up in Paul Ryan’s hammock.
The Post’s Glenn Kessler has checked out the anecdote Paul Ryan offered at CPAC yesterday, which was the perfect distillation of what you might call the Hammock Theory of Poverty. In case you missed it, Ryan opined that the left is offering people “a full stomach and an empty soul,” and referenced an anecdote supposedly passed along to him by a Wisconsin public official:
“She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
This seems to harken back to Ryan’s infamous claim that the safety net is a “hammock” that lulls people into “dependency and complacency.” In this tale, the boy’s mother seems to be the person swaying back and forth in the hammock. The larger idea here has already been addressed by Jonathan Chait and Paul Krugman. Both point out that if anything, the anecdote underscores the need for free lunches; after all, if the boy’s mother isn’t giving him a brown-paper-bag lunch, whatever the reason for that, a school lunch is the next best immediate option.
Now Kessler finds that the anecdote is fiction — the creation of a misstatement by the official who originally offered it.
Two additional points here. While the original purveyor did botch the tale, the failure to vet it before presenting it to a national audience seems like more of the “lazy mendacity” Jonathan Bernstein talks about. Lawmakers get so used to saying whatever they want unchallenged inside the Conservative Media Entertainment Complex that claims go increasingly un-vetted.
More important, the idea behind the story is central to Paul Ryan’s larger bamboozlement. Ryan is set to offer up a budget. As of now, his stated goals — balancing the budget in 10 years; not cutting defense to #Obummer levels; preserving the Medicare benefits Republicans want to attack Dems for cutting — would seem to leave no option other than deep cuts to programs for the poor, as in previous budgets. At the same time, Ryan has embarked on a campaign to prove the GOP cares deeply about poverty. The only way to make all of this work is to argue that slashing programs for the poor is the way to help them — hence anecdotes like the one above that are designed to give that notion a philosophical gloss.
Ryan’s anecdotal effort to do that may have earned him a sound fact-check thrashing. But he is still basically functioning in a media environment where he is greeted great deference as a serious wonk, even as the truly draconian nature of his fiscal vision and its fundamentally absurd pretentions to caring about poverty — not to mention its violence to mathematical reality — escape serious press scrutiny.
* A SOMEWHAT BETTER JOBS REPORT: The February jobs numbers are in:
Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 175,000 in February, and the unemployment rate was little changed at 6.7 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Employment increased in professional and business services and in wholesale trade but declined in information.
Revisions of the December and January jobs numbers were negligible; a total of 25,000 more jobs was added for the two months. Time for those infrastructure repair programs to create jobs that Republicans used to support before Obama was president!
* WHAT THE JOBS REPORT MEANS: Joe Weisenthal flags the two key takeaways from the new jobs numbers:
The Non-Farm Payrolls report was solid. This suggests that the economy was a bit stronger than we thought. there was a big gain in average hourly earnings (+0.4%), the strongest in a long time. This is a sign of a tightening labor force, which is something markets have been talking about lately, that the market is tighter than people realize.
Bottom line: A solid, goldilocks report that the market will like. But the average hourly earnings is a big story.
* THE LATEST ON THE FLORIDA SPECIAL ELECTION: The Tampa Bay Times takes a look at the wild card in the race: The libertarian candidate, who could draw as much as seven percent of the vote, and could help tip the race to Dem Alex Sink by siphoning votes away from Republican David Jolly. It’s also possible, though less likely, that he could take votes from Sink. This is another reminder that the outcome will be determined by quirky and unpredictable factors and should not be interpreted as any kind of harbinger for this fall.
* NATIONAL REPUBLICANS ANGRY AT FLORIDA GOP CANDIDATE: Meanwhile, Politico reports that national Republican strategists with the NRCC are now anonymously dumping on David Jolly as anger erupts over strategic differences:.
Washington Republicans have described Jolly’s campaign…as a Keystone Cops operation, marked by inept fundraising, top advisers stationed hundreds of miles away from the district in the state capital and the poor optics of a just-divorced, 41-year-old candidate accompanied on the campaign trail by a girlfriend 14 years his junior…It is rare for party officials to criticize one of their own candidates, even anonymously, days before an election. One explanation may be so they can point to Jolly — as opposed to the national political mood or the ineffectiveness of attacks against Sink over her support for Obamacare — if he loses.
Such an outcome will be widely interpreted in national terms by the press, but if Jolly does lose, truthfully it won’t tell us much about how Obamacare will impact particular red state Dem Senators’ reelection campaigns.
* KEEP AN EYE ON NORTH CAROLINA GOP SENATE PRIMARY: Greg Brannon, the Tea Party candidate against expected GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis, has just picked up the endorsement of senior Tea Party Senator Mike Lee. This will be worth watching.
Remember, Tillis is struggling to articulate his position on Obamacare: He knows he can’t be for full repeal and nothing else, but he also can’t embrace any specific alternatives — so he’s endorsing Obamacare’s general goals, which alone is getting him hit from the right by Brannon. It’s another way in which the politics of Obamacare are more complicated for Republicans than they allow.
* RUBIO TRIES TO MAKE AMENDS WITH RIGHT: With Republicans criticizing Obama “weakness” for creating the Ukraine crisis, Jonathan Martin reports that Marco Rubio is trying to repair relations with conservatives still furious over his immigration apostasy by calling for a more aggressive American military posture in international affairs. Note this:
That posture stands in contrast with other members of his party, notably Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who argues that the United States should be wary of foreign intervention and retreat from the policies of the George W. Bush era. The divergent national security views of the two ambitious, first-term senators offer an early preview of a debate sure to play out in the Republican presidential primary in 2016.
Can Rubio make sufficient amends for his heretical exercise in bipartisan problem solving by vowing to restore the foreign policy luster of the Bush years? We’ll soon find out.
* MITCH McCONNELL PUNCHES BACK AT CONSERVATIVES: ABC News reports that Mitch McConnell’s campaign is up with a new ad hitting back at Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin. The ad, interestingly, also hits his leading outside-group antagonist, the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has funded ads against him. The spot decries “out of state” interests, which is interesting given McConnell’s defense of the Koch brothers.
Beyond that, this is a reminder that McConnell, while likely to win his primary, could enter into the general election after a bruising fight with the right, which Dems hope will depress the conservative enthusiasm he needs to win.
* AND PAUL RYAN’S ‘HAMMOCK FALLACY’: Related to my lead item: Paul Krugman does a real demolition job on Paul Ryan’s critique of federal anti-poverty programs, citing all the research that demonstrates why the safety net does not function as a “hammock” that lulls people into “dependency” at all. Indeed, we need more hammock, not less:
The reason so many Americans remain trapped in poverty isn’t that the government helps them too much; it’s that it helps them too little…It is, in a way, nice to see the likes of Mr. Ryan at least talking about the need to help the poor. But somehow their notion of aiding the poor involves slashing benefits while cutting taxes on the rich. Funny how that works.
It’s worth restating that Ryan’s worldview isn’t shared by all Republicans. Many non-Tea Party Republicans are much more in line with the mainstream on these matters. But the GOP agenda is dictated by the Tea Party worldview.