Ross Douthat’s reaction to the Scott Walker recall vote is a perfect illustration of my previous post, in which I argue against conflating the crisis of public-sector bloat with that of the Great Recession.
In fact, it’s useful to think of Obama’s stimulus bill and Walker’s budget repair bill as mirror image exercises in legislative shock and awe, and the Tea Party and the Wisconsin labor protests as mirror images of backlash.
No, no, no, no, a thousand times, no. It is perfectly useless to think this way.
The stimulus bill was not a “mirror image” of Walkerian austerity. It’d be more accurate to say the two policies were “cause and effect.” The stimulus bill was in part necessitated by Walkerian austerity. As states and municipalities pared their budgets, the Obama administration attempted to fill in the breach of total spending. One may argue that the stimulus was poorly designed, too larded with goodies for liberal interest groups. One, too, may reject Keynesianism more generally. What one can’t do fairly is contrast the actions of a governor trying to balance a state budget, as he is required to by law, and a president trying to deal with a fast-contracting national economy. If one guy is putting out a fire with water and another guy is lighting a suppression fire, we don’t call the latter an arsonist.
No more persuasive is Douthat’s casting Rep. Paul Ryan as a paradigm of fiscal probity:
The House Republicans have spent the past two years taking tough votes on entitlement reform, preparing themselves for an ambitious offensive should 2012 deliver the opportunity to cast those same votes and have them count. The Senate Democrats, on the other hand, have failed to even pass a budget: There is no Democratic equivalent of Paul Ryan’s fiscal blueprint, no Democratic plan to swallow hard and raise middle class taxes the way Republicans look poised to swallow hard and overhaul Medicare.
Converting Medicare into a premium-support model is, generally speaking, a worthy idea with a lot of potential. But doing so while proposing massive new tax cuts and “closing” phantom loopholes is not “swallowing hard.” It’s an attempt to package goodies to favored interest groups (in Ryan’s case, the wealthy) with the same incontinence with which Democrats deliver theirs. Or, less cynically, it is symptomatic of Ryan’s being under the spell of supply-side sorcery.