Zero Worship

The Ryan/Romney budget prescription is just another trickle-down farce.

When Mitt Romney announced Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate in mid-August, conservatives hailed the choice as daring, bold, gutsy, and radical – all adjectives that had previously been used in relation to Romney about as frequently as “gangsta pimp.”

But really, the elevation of Ryan, and by extension his much-ballyhooed budget plan, was less a stroke of intellectual integrity than a cheesy (or cheesehead-y?) marketing ploy – more pet rock than Rock of Gibraltar.

In these parts, much of the fawning hysteria was centered on Ryan’s gimlet-eyed Dairy State wholesomeness and his supposedly bold prescription for America. And I sorta get that. I’m a homer as much as the next guy. I was proud to see Aaron Rodgers win the MVP, and I think it’s kind of cool that that chick from the Go-Go’s used to live in Maple Bluff.

But let’s get a grip, people. 

If my brother designs a perpetual motion machine and manages to wheedle plaudits out of a gaggle of Fox News airheads impressed by his bold vision for the future, I’m not going to be proud of his gumption. I’ll be kind of embarrassed.

Seriously, does anyone really think Ryan’s plan is a) workable or b) good for anyone but the spectacularly wealthy?

Space limitations preclude a thorough evaluation of Ryan’s scheme, but suffice to say, many informed observers think Ryan’s plan is nothing short of laughable.

The criticism does not simply come from dyed-in-the-wool lefties, either. Sure, liberal Princeton (and Nobel Prize-winning) economist Paul Krugman predictably calls Ryan’s budget fixes a “fantasy.” But Bruce Bartlett, a former Reagan and Bush I advisor and Jack Kemp staffer, has been at least as harsh as Krugman, if not more so, calling Ryan’s solutions “more fantasy than reality,” “fundamentally dishonest,” and “nothing more than a PR document for Republicans so they can say they have a plan to balance the budget, cut taxes, and cure the common cold.”

It’s that last criticism, of course, that begins to peel the curtain away from the mysterious Cult of Ryan. The heart of the Ryan/Romney financial fix is, after all, more tax cuts, particularly for the already well-to-do. 

Um, stop me if you’ve heard this before, but trickle-down economics doesn’t work. It doesn’t lead ineluctably to prosperity, and it certainly doesn’t balance the budget. Republicans were united in opposition to the Clinton upper-class tax increases, universally claiming they’d plunge our country into a recession. We know how that story ended. During the ’50s and ’60s, high marginal tax rates on the wealthy (very high by modern standards) corresponded with a period of unprecedented growth during which prosperity was broadly shared. Conversely, large tax cuts for the mega-wealthy preceded both the Great Depression and the Great Recession. 

Unfortunately, conservatives love their trickle-down fantasy so much they just can’t bear to let it go. So because upper-class tax cuts and a financial sector left home alone without a babysitter worked so spectacularly well in the ’00s, we’re now being told we should double down on that prescription. It’s not the voodoo that was the problem, after all, but the voodoo priest. We’ve found the guys with the real mojo this time. Trust us. More chicken entrails, stat!

Even those who are skeptical of the details of the Romney/Ryan budget plan tend to give Ryan credit for at least putting the deficit question front and center. Fine, but his nonsense is really more of a distraction than anything. Gilligan had a lot of ideas for getting off the island, too, but that doesn’t mean anyone took him seriously. The appropriate response was to whack him over the head with the Skipper’s hat and go ask the Professor what he thought.

Unfortunately, Gilligan’s schemes are now front and center in the presidential race. That should make us all more wary than hometown proud.

Hey, I like a balanced budget as much as the next guy (paging Bill Clinton), but let’s get serious. More magical thinking will not move this nation forward, no matter how cool having a fellow Badger as VP might seem.

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