Ezra Klein’s unforgettable portrait!


Young scribe seeking room at the top: On Tuesday, Paul Ryan released his latest budget proposal.

In response, Ezra Klein offered the clearest portrait of a young man on the make since Jack Clayton’s Room at the Top. Unfortunately, his portrait is a portrait of self, not a portrait of Ryan.

Truly, this is astounding:
KLEIN (3/21/12): I don't think Paul Ryan intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. Similarly, I don't think Mitt Romney intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans. But there's a reason their budgets turned out so similar: The Republican Party has settled on four overlapping fiscal commitments that leave them with few other choices.

The Republican plans we've seen share a few basic premises. First, taxes are too high, and must be cut. Second, defense spending is too low, and should be raised. Third, major changes to entitlement programs should be passed now, but they shouldn't affect the current generation of retirees. That would all be fine, except for the fourth premise, which is that short-term deficits are a serious threat to the country and they need to be swiftly cut.

The first three budget premises means that taxes and defense will contribute more to the deficit, and Medicare and Social Security aren't available for quick savings. That leaves programs for the poor as the only major programs available to bear cuts. But now cuts to those programs have to pay for the deficit reduction, the increased defense spending, and the tax cuts. That means the cuts to those programs have to be really, really, really deep. The authors have no other choice.
This isn’t the first time Klein has rushed to vouch for Ryan’s soul. When Ryan released his previous crazy plan in 2011, Klein vouched for his good intentions at his blog, then in a column in the hard-copy Post.

See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/6/11. Then, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/14/11, with a link to the previous day’s HOWLER.

Why does Klein vouch for Ryan in these deeply ridiculous ways? In the end, we can’t exactly tell you—but that passage from yesterday’s blog post is almost impossibly daft. It’s true, of course:

If you insist on 1) lowering taxes, 2) spending more on the military and 3) making “major changes” to Social Security and Medicare, then you will have to write a budget that concentrates (gigantic) cuts on the poorest Americans.

As Klein puts it, you will "have no other choice." Any good courtier would know.

But who or what made Ryan insist on those three requirements? What made him stick to those requirements once he saw where they lead? And by the way:

Given the fact that taxes are at historical lows, what makes Ryan think that taxes have to be lowered, especially on the highest earners? That requirement makes no apparent sense. What makes Ryan adopt it?

Ezra Klein is very bright. His blog post is impossibly daft. Just a guess:

Klein wants to find even more room at the top. By the way, he’ll soon be guest hosting for Rachel again, reading the ridiculous monologues her staff has written for him.

Your career liberal world is full of these self-dealing players. The content of our modern politics has been massively shaped by their games. By the things they insist on saying, by the things they won't mention.

Your career liberal world is full of these folk. But your powerful lizard brain keeps saying this can’t be so.

One-word film review: We watched Room at the Top just this week. Our one-word film review:



  1. An ugly truth about journalism, however high and mighty, is that being unpleasant can cost you sources. I'm sure Klein's fawning here is required in order for Ryan's people to continue considering him fair and balanced.

    Conservatives pore over journalism in search of "bias," by which they mean anything at variance with how they would have PR'd it themselves.

    It seems press management has been a harder science and faster-growing career field than journalism for some time.

    It's not surprising that some of the gutsiest-seeming political writing comes from people who never actually have to face the people they write about, even to the point of living in a another city.

    Naturally, that last remark was intended for the nation's established commentariat, not our indispensible blogger.

    1. So Klein's "sources" can advance any crazy-ass thing they like, and Klein must treat it as well-intentioned, or else he'll lose his access to these "sources." It's all in the name of good journalism!

      That's exactly on a par with Klein's own reasoning in defending Ryan. You're trying to out-Klein Klein. But here's what I don't get about people like you: Klein is making himself a multi-millionaire for being a scrofulous whore to power. You don't get paid a dime for it. So why do you do it?

  2. Ezra is no doubt aware that his colleagues -- Joe Nocera, Fareed Zakaria, James Stewart, among many others -- command speaking fees of $50K+, from the financial services industry.

    It's a small price to pay for ensuring the world that despite his reprehensible budget proposal, Ryan doesn't really intend any of consequences attendant on those budgets.

  3. I'm gonna beg everyone to please not call Ezra Klein a liberal.

    1. In Howlerland he's already known as a pseudo-lib

  4. Who is John Galt? The answer, of course, is "a fiction."

    Paul Ryan makes everybody who works for him read Atlas Shrugged.

    In Ryan-land, John Galt is the heroic exponent of rational selfishness who overturns the evil collectivist state that crushes the most productive citizens.

    And the evil collectivist state that Ryan is trying to overturn was mid 1950s Eisenhower-era America, before the Great Society and Medicare and all that.

    The message of Atlas Shrugged is consistent with Ryan's budget proposals, both this year's and last year's.

    So no, Ezra Klein, you can write "I don't think Paul Ryan intended to write a budget that concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans."

    1. Oops! Ezra Klein can't write ....

  5. Perhaps Ryan had no other choice if he wanted to cling to his ideology at all costs.
    At all costs to the middle class and working class, that is.

    Maybe he didn't wake up in the morning and declare, "I think I'll screw working class Americans and retirees today."
    But he didn't shy away from it either.

  6. I am suspicious of facile criticisms which are not accompanies by cites or backup. Is it really true that Ryan's proposal "concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans." Given the enormous size of Medicare and its very high rate of growth, I would have thought that the conversion of Medicare to a voucher system would be the largest dollar cut in Ryan's proposal.

    Does anybody what the phrase "concentrated its cuts" specifically means and where the evidence is that Ryan's plan "concentrated its cuts on the poorest Americans"?

    1. David, I'm trying to determine if you are being willfully ignorant, or you really don't know the history of Medicare.

      Before Medicare, the highest rate of poverty existed among the elderly. It was quite the norm in those days for the elderly to move into the homes of their grown children because medical bills consumed whatever life savings they had and they were impoverished.

      As soon as Medicare was implemented, the poverty rate among the elderly plunged. In fact, of all the anti-poverty programs passed in the Great Society years, Medicare is not arguably, but demonstrably the most successful one.

      And just because millions of Medicare recipients aren't living in poverty, that doesn't mean they won't be if Paul Ryan's wet dream comes true and he pulls the health care retirees are counting on and turning it back into a voucher system, "Good luck on the open market," scheme.

      And it will be interesting to see what Ryan's friends in the insurance industry will say about taking on an aging population that was taken off their books nearly 50 years ago.

    2. Quaker in a BasementMarch 22, 2012 at 2:41 PM

      I would have thought that the conversion of Medicare to a voucher system would be the largest dollar cut in Ryan's proposal.

      You would have thought that only if you're looking pretty far down the road. Mr. Ryan pledges not to disrupt Medicare for current seniors and those nearing eligibility. So that conversion to a voucher system isn't going to produce near-term savings. And yet, Ryan still calls for significant spending cuts right away.

  7. Hey D in C- Don't go away angry....just go away

  8. gravymeister has it right. That is the thesis of Klein's column: given the sacred cows of the Republican Party platform, they have no other options than to cut programs which help the poor.

    E.Klein didn't come across as "fawning" in my reading of his column, unless you consider giving Ryan the benefit of the doubt on his motivations to be "fawning." Do you really believe that Paul Ryan explicitly and with malice aforethought wants to balance the budget on the backs of the poor? Really? Is Paul Ryan such a nefarious character, virtually twirling his mustache as he plots new ways to oppress the "looters and moochers?" Or is that just a pleasing, tribal caricature of him?

    What I read in the column was this: even if you give Ryan the benefit of the doubt on his motivations, even if he were NOT a Randroid, he STILL could not propose cuts to anything other than programs that help the poor. That's all that's allowed if you're a Republican, Randroid or no.

    1. This is tortured reasoning. Active "malice" need not come into play here, at all. Impossible to know what goes on in anyone's mind, which is why speculation about motive is pointless, and senseless. All you can do is look at the policy, and its consequences.

      One can and will, of course, speculate, however pointlessly: Ryan & Co. may believe that they're actually doing the poor a favor (dependency is evil, don't you know, even if multi-millionaires are the only ones, in the system he proposes, who could escape penury in the face of chronic or serious illness) or that this suffering is necessary for a higher good.

      But who cares? What we have is a budget with obvious outcomes. It takes from some, and gives to others. Folks tell themselves all kinds of fairy-tales, about why they do what they do. The mustache is neither here nor there.

    2. You're setting up a straw-person argument in hopes of... well I can't really tell what. Republicans could propose cuts to defense spending and increases in taxes. It's actually not illegal or against the laws of thermodynamics. Why don't they? Could it be because they're serving their donors' interests instead of America's interests? Or is it because of 100%, pure, total, dumb, random luck?

  9. Quaker in a BasementMarch 22, 2012 at 2:23 PM

    Just as John Malkovich said in Dangerous Liaisons, "It's beyond my control."

  10. "Truly, this is astounding."

    Not to me Bob, not to me. I'd more likely choose the word "inevitable".

  11. Yes, Ryan really doesn't want his bugdet to concentrate its cuts on the very poor. But his need to give his rich friends even more tax breaks leaves him with no choice. He's not a bad person, he's just a person with few options.

  12. I generally think Bob Somerby's ideas about journalists and their motivations are worthwhile, and I have learned a lot from reading this blog. But BS has also made good points about not trying to mind-read, or be too sure of the motivations of others. And that's exactly what he's doing here, because really, either Klein's point is true or it isn't true. If it is true, that the Republicans care about these other things and the policy effects on the poor are simply a by-product, then what's wrong with his point? And AFAICT Bob Somerby adduces not one fact that addresses Klein's point. (In fact the only fact adduced period is that Ezra Klein guest-hosts the Rachel Maddow show).

    If Klein was really out to please [whomever], why would he even be bringing this point up? The cuts-to-the-poor point? I'd think evidence of his wanting to please [whomever] would be efforts to shade his analysis/analyses in the direction of avoiding this topic altogether.

    At the end of the day, btw, haven't the effect of Republican policy preferences been manifested much less in cuts to the poor and much more in increases to the deficit? Hmmm? I thought the standard (informed) criticism was not so much meanness towards the poor but phoniness about fiscal responsibility.

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