I was more than a little bit struck by the title of Paul Krugman’s op-ed today in the New York Times, “The Ryan Cult.” Without trying to claim any moral high ground here, and doing my best not to be overly cynical re: Krugman, some days I come away from his column genuinely feeling like he’s the Ellsworth Toohey of the real world. A quick Google search suggests I’m not the first to feel this way. Let me explain.
I believe that Ryan’s budget proposal, for all its imperfections, is a genuine good faith effort by the congressman to address our fiscal future responsibly. It acknowledges – like the overwhelming majority on both the left and right – that the current structure of entitlement spending is unsustainable, and that the tax code is unnecessarily complex, cumbersome, and inherently unfair. His budget offers reasonable – though debatable – solutions to these problems. If nothing else, it begins an intelligent and intellectually open conversation about what we must do moving forward.
Despite all this, on the heels of Obama calling his proposal a “Trojan Horse” (even though Obama’s own proposal failed to garner a single vote in congress), Krugman flippantly reduces Ryan’s proposal and those who would support his general framework to a “cult.” Seriously?
It’s exactly this sort of divisive rhetoric that continues to shape the sentiments of our body politic. In this column, Krugman not only trashes Ryan but anyone else who might stand up for centrism, moderation, or compromise. He basically charges that (1) claims of centrism are nothing but a professional “selling point,” (2) that reasonable people don’t exist, and that (3) the center is “gullible” if not politically agnostic. This is the sort of rhetoric which keeps jamming a partisan wedge between the American people and allows the partisan machines to continue steamrolling ahead.
Well I have to draw a line in the sand and disagree with Ellsworth…errmm, I mean Krugman. The center does exist and it does hold. And the true cultists are the ones who continue to undermine reasonable progress with fancy wordsmith-ing and caricature. If we can’t address entitlements spending and the tax code collectively, neither the Republicans or the Democrats can save us now.