PART 2—KRUGMAN’S WARNING: Paul Krugman thinks he knows why Candidate Romney selected Candidate Ryan.
He offered his theory in a recent blog post. We don’t know if he’s right:
KRUGMAN (8/13/12): So, let me clarify what I believe is really going on in the choice of Paul Ryan as VP nominee. It is not about satisfying the conservative base, which was motivated anyway by Obama-hatred; it is not about refocusing on the issues, because R&R are both determined to avoid providing any of the crucial specifics about their plans. It is—as Jonathan Chait also seems to understand—about exploiting the gullibility and vanity of the news media, in much the same way that George W. Bush did in 2000.Is that why Romney picked Candidate Ryan—to win the love of a few hundred journalists?
So that’s the constituency Romney is targeting: not a large segment of the electorate, but a few hundred at most editors, reporters, programmers, and pundits. His hope is that Ryan’s unjustified reputation for honest wonkery will transfer to the ticket as a whole.
So, a memo to the news media: you have now become players in this campaign, not just reporters. Mitt Romney isn’t seeking a debate on the issues; on the contrary, he’s betting that your gullibility and vanity will let him avoid a debate on the issues, including the issue of his own fitness for the presidency. I guess we’ll see if it works.
For ourselves, we have no idea. Beyond that, we wish Krugman would rein in such speculations. Our guess? They undermine the role he could and should be playing as Trusted Smart Man of the Left.
That said, Krugman is right in his account of the press corps’ traditional take on Ryan. He describes this long love affair in the central part of his post—though even here, he overdoes the mind-reading just a tad:
KRUGMAN: Like Bush in 2000, Ryan has a completely undeserved reputation in the media as a bluff, honest guy, in Ryan’s case supplemented by a reputation as a serious policy wonk. None of this has any basis in reality; Ryan’s much-touted plan, far from being a real solution, relies crucially on stuff that is just pulled out of thin air—huge revenue increases from closing unspecified loopholes, huge spending cuts achieved in ways not mentioned. See Matt Miller for more.Krugman is certainly right concerning the novelization of Ryan. Our political “press corps” is deeply childish. In recent decades, it has tended to agree on silly, infantilized fantasy versions of certain political figures.
So whence comes the Ryan reputation? As I said in my last post, it’s because many commentators want to tell a story about US politics that makes them feel and look good—a story in which both parties are equally at fault in our national stalemate, and in which said commentators stand above the fray. This story requires that there be good, honest, technically savvy conservative politicians, so that you can point to these politicians and say how much you admire them, even if you disagree with some of their ideas; after all, unless you lavish praise on some conservatives, you don’t come across as nobly even-handed.
The trouble, of course, is that it’s really really hard to find any actual conservative politicians who deserve that praise. Ryan, with his flaky numbers (and actually very hard-line stance on social issues), certainly doesn’t. But a large part of the commentariat decided early on that they were going to cast Ryan in the role of Serious Honest Conservative, and have been very unwilling to reconsider that casting call in the light of evidence.
In 1999, Candidates Bradley and McCain were novelized as The Last Honest Men. Before them, so was Potential Candidate Powell.
All three men ended up like the sanctified Coach Paterno, lying in the press corps’ faces. Inevitably, this is where it leads when the press corps builds fawning Boys’ Life novels about deeply ambitious public figures.
Ambitious pols will take advantage when the children agree to pretend that they're saints. The press corps virtually mandates their misconduct when they fawn to them so.
At any rate, McCain, Powell and Bradley were novelized as The Last Honest Men. Bold Smart Courageous Congressman Ryan has received similar treatment, just as Krugman describes.
In effect, these childish scribes have behaved like Ryan's sons and daughters.
That doesn’t mean that Ryan was picked for this reason. Nor is it clear that pundits have treated Ryan this way for the reasons Krugman describes. Do commentators “want to tell a story about US politics that makes them feel and look good?” Or could the story be somewhat simpler? Are they simply bending to the rise of conservative power in Washington, as they did when they spent a decade demonizing both Clintons, then Gore?
We hate it when Krugman mind-reads in simplistic ways; we think such conduct may undermine his influence. That said, there is no doubt that Ryan has been novelized by the press corps in the way Krugman describes.
Good God! As recently as April 2011, such fiery liberals as Ezra Klein and Jacob Weisberg fell all over themselves, praising Bold Ryan’s Outstanding Great Character—before they were forced to acknowledge that the numbers in his new budget plan were fake, phony, fraudulent, bogus.
Why did Weisberg and Klein fawn? We can’t tell you. But the press had been treating Ryan the way for several years by that time.
Back to Krugman’s recent post, which correctly described that syndrome:
As Krugman ended his post, he challenged “the news media” to drop the crap about Ryan (see text above). And sure enough! On balance, we’d have to say that the fawning has been greatly reduced this past week. Two examples:
In Monday’s Washington Post, Matt Miller savaged The Last Smart Courageous Man. He said Ryan’s basic political stance is phony—a con and a fraud. And not only that:
In this morning’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd savages Ryan in a way she normally reserves for the wives of major Democrats.
Some of the old foolishness has been present since Ryan's selection (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/14/12), but it has been vastly reduced. This brings us to the note of concern which played in Krugman’s post.
On MSNBC, the children have been happy this week. They’re sure that Romney’s choice of Ryan has doomed any chance he had.
Krugman’s post carried a different sense. Quite sensibly, he seemed to fear that Ryan’s selection might tip the press corps’ coverage of Romney, taking us back to the bad old days when they pimped plain-spoken Bush as a plain-spoken man you could trust.
Is that possible? And could the public get fooled by such coverage? Let’s look again at what Krugman said about the treatment of Candidate Bush. In this passage, he links to a post by Jonathan Chait—a truly remarkable post:
KRUGMAN: So, let me clarify what I believe is really going on in the choice of Paul Ryan as VP nominee. It is not about satisfying the conservative base, which was motivated anyway by Obama-hatred; it is not about refocusing on the issues, because R&R are both determined to avoid providing any of the crucial specifics about their plans. It is—as Jonathan Chait also seems to understand—about exploiting the gullibility and vanity of the news media, in much the same way that George W. Bush did in 2000.Yes, there is a danger here—and yes, it’s related to a pattern which extends through Campaign 2000 and into the Clinton years. Voters would be better equipped to see this pattern if they understood the history of press corps behavior during that earlier era.
Like Bush in 2000, Ryan has a completely undeserved reputation in the media as a bluff, honest guy, in Ryan’s case supplemented by a reputation as a serious policy wonk. None of this has any basis in reality...
But alas! We liberals have kept that history hidden over the course of the past dozen years. In Chait’s post, he basically lies in the public’s face about that vital history.
To examine Chait’s post, click here. It’s time to start telling the truth about people who lie as he does in that post—and about the other people who allow them to do so.
Tomorrow: There’s no way on earth