New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's Monday column "The Gullible Center" bashed -- you guessed it -- Rep. Paul Ryan, and perhaps took a hidden swipe at "self-proclaimed centrists" who take Ryan's budget seriously, like fellow Times columnist David Brooks (Michael Calderone at Huffington Post noticed the jab).
It would not be the first time Krugman and Brooks conducted a secret grapple (Times policy discourages columnists from taking issue with each other.) In the fall of 2007 Krugman accused Ronald Reagan of launching his successful 1980 presidential campaign from outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered, as a sop to Southern racists. Brooks, himself an Obama fan, delivered an able defense of Reagan against Krugman's twisting of history, without mentioning Krugman, referring only to the slur "being spread by people who, before making one of the most heinous charges imaginable, couldn't even take 10 minutes to look at the evidence." Ahem.
On Monday Krugman slammed"extremists" like Ryan and "self-proclaimed centrists" (like Brooks?).
So, can we talk about the Paul Ryan phenomenon?
And yes, I mean the phenomenon, not the man. Mr. Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the principal author of the last two Congressional Republican budget proposals, isn’t especially interesting. He’s a garden-variety modern G.O.P. extremist, an Ayn Rand devotee who believes that the answer to all problems is to cut taxes on the rich and slash benefits for the poor and middle class.
No, what’s interesting is the cult that has grown up around Mr. Ryan -- and in particular the way self-proclaimed centrists elevated him into an icon of fiscal responsibility, and even now can’t seem to let go of their fantasy.
The Ryan cult was very much on display last week, after President Obama said the obvious: the latest Republican budget proposal, a proposal that Mitt Romney has avidly embraced, is a “Trojan horse” -- that is, it is essentially a fraud. “Disguised as deficit reduction plans, it is really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.”
The reaction from many commentators was a howl of outrage. The president was being rude; he was being partisan; he was being a big meanie. Yet what he said about the Ryan proposal was completely accurate.
Actually, there are many problems with that proposal. But you can get the gist if you understand two numbers: $4.6 trillion and 14 million.
Krugman asked the rhetorical question "What does it mean to be a centrist, anyway?"
It could mean supporting politicians who actually are relatively nonideological, who are willing, for example, to seek Democratic support for health reforms originally devised by Republicans, to support deficit-reduction plans that rely on both spending cuts and revenue increases. And by that standard, centrists should be lavishing praise on the leading politician who best fits that description -- a fellow named Barack Obama.
Enter Mr. Ryan, an ordinary G.O.P. extremist, but a mild-mannered one. The “centrists” needed to pretend that there are reasonable Republicans, so they nominated him for the role, crediting him with virtues he has never shown any sign of possessing. Indeed, back in 2010 Mr. Ryan, who has never once produced a credible deficit-reduction plan, received an award for fiscal responsibility from a committee representing several prominent centrist organizations.