When I started this series I didn't realize how hard it would be to pick just one idiot out of the masses of them out there, doing their level best to damage America and its citizens. But I'm not one to shy away from a challenge, so here we go. This week's biggest idiot honors go to Wisconsin congressman and losing VP nominee Paul Ryan.
Why? In a week when there's been so much idiocy on display, why does Ryan edge out the pack?
Because Ryan is who Republicans point to as their "budget guy." He's the author, after all, of the budget plan that every house Republican voted for twice (despite the fact that it destroyed Medicare, slashed vital social programs, and didn't actually achieve its stated goals--and the fact that it had precious few numbers for something that was supposed to be a budget plan). He's famously known in the mainstream media as a policy wonk and a numbers guy. And in fact, he seems to have a weakness for graphs and charts.
What that all disguises is that he is essentially clueless about how the economy really works.
As the Washington Post put it, "On Sunday morning, Rep. Paul Ryan reiterated a message that House Republicans have been trying to push since the fiscal cliff deal happened: The GOP is unafraid to let the sequester take effect. “I think the sequester is going to happen,” Ryan said on NBC’s 'Meet the Press.'”
To be honest, Ryan is really standing in here for a lot of Republicans (especially those who think he's a smart guy). Because Republican economic policy is generally focused on cutting taxes and--they claim, but don't actually support--cutting the deficit. Ryan, who used to say (accurately) that the sequester was a huge problem, now says the country "can't afford to lose those spending cuts."
He's almost right--only wrong by two words, in fact. What he should have said is: the country can't afford those spending cuts.
It is not the deficit that's holding back economic recovery. And the private sector really is picking up a lot of steam. But in the last quarter of 2012, the nation's GDP shrank for the first time since 2009. The reason? Largely, defense cuts, along with businesses depleting their inventories, and quite possibly the effect of a monster superstorm hitting one of the most economically vital parts of the country. (I should point out that these GDP numbers may well be revised upward in the weeks and months to come. But still, it wasn't the steady growth we need.) Public spending--government spending--has not been holding up its end. It needs to be increased, not decreased.
The sequester that Paul Ryan has decided he's looking forward to will bring with it huge additional defense cuts, as well as corresponding cuts in domestic spending--all of them administered with a blunt hatchet, not a scalpel.
Here's a chart you need to see. Apparently Paul Ryan, chart-lover that he is, has failed to look at it. But it explains, in the simplest terms possible, why GDP dropped.
Chart via the Washington Post's Wonkblog: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/the-only-chart-you-need-on-the-gdp-report/?wprss=rss_ezra-klein&wpisrc=nl_wonk
Republicans used to (and we're talking weeks ago, maybe months, not back in the Gilded Age) deny Keynesian economics, except when it came to defense spending. Government doesn't create jobs! they cried. But you can't touch the Pentagon's budget, because jobs will be lost! Consistency has never been their strong point.
Now, suddenly--now that Barack Obama has been reelected and they've had to suffer the incredible pain of allowing taxes on multimillionaires to edge back toward Clinton rates--they have given up even defense Keynesianism. Never mind jobs, they say. Cutting spending is the only priority. The sequester ain't so bad, after all. Let's embrace it.
Only, the thing is, we're in a recovery. The economy's picking up steam in many areas. At this point, there aren't many things that could turn it around, send us back into recession.
One of the things that could is the sort of enforced austerity that the Republicans are proposing. We've seen what those policies have done in Europe. Thanks to having President Obama in the White House instead of President McCain or President Romney, we've dodged that particular bullet. But now Paul Ryan, the Republicans' idea of an economic genius, thinks that the sequester won't be such a bad thing.
Sorry, Congressman. We--the American people who are not idiots--are in favor of things like good jobs and humming economies, open libraries and paved roads, teachers and firefighters and cops and strong militaries. We do not believe that the economy should be slashed to the bone and then some, do not embrace the Grover Norquist vision of a government so shriveled it can be "drowned in a bathtub." We think the sequester is a bad idea, and you, since you work for us, need to get with it and agree to reasonable compromises that include raising more revenue as well as cutting spending where it can afford to be cut.
We didn't like that whole recession business, and we're not nostalgic for its return. If you are, there are flights to Greece every day.
Of runners-up, there are, as usual, far too many. It was once again a week during which we Talked About Guns--this time, we can only hope, the talking will lead toward some sort of action that will prevent a few kids from being killed for no reason. But amid all the talk were pronouncements like that of Senator Lamar Alexander (R/TN), who said, "You know, I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people. But the First Amendment limits what we can do about video games and the Second Amendment to the Constitution limits what we can do about guns."
People don't kill each other with guns made of pixels. People kill each other with real guns. Plus, video games are incredibly popular around the world, but real gun violence is only super-popular in these here United States. Plus also too, in olden times life was even more violent, as a rule, than it is now (although it was much harder for a guy with a sword to kill twenty people at once), and they didn't have video games then. All the real research shows that video games, movies, TV, rap songs, and the rest do not make people into killers. People who act in violent ways do so because they are violent people, and that almost always comes from their own past, their upbringing, their mental state. Guns are the tool those people use to commit their violence. Video games having nothing to do with it, Senator.
We also had some public discussion of immigration reform this week, leading to the efforts of Sen. Marco Rubio (R/FL) (who is three for three, having appeared in the first and second segments of this series) and my own Governor Jan Brewer (R/AZ) to demonstrate that they may not even be competent to dress themselves, much less hold public office. Discussing the Obama immigration reform plan, Rubio made the nonsensical argument that he's "concerned by the president’s unwillingness to accept significant enforcement triggers before current undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card. Without such triggers in place, enforcement systems will never be implemented, and we will be back in just a few years dealing with millions of new undocumented people in our country.”
What he apparently doesn't know, despite the fact that he's considered by many Republicans a sort of golden boy and the way they will win back Hispanic voters, is that the border security measures the Bush administration and congressional Republicans wanted back in 2007 have already been implemented. Illegal immigration is essentially at net zero, with just as many undocumented people leaving the country as arriving. It's hard to quanitfy exactly why--it might have more to do with Mexico's improved economy than with our improved border security--but it's a fact. It's hard to know what sort of "triggers" would satisfy Rubio when he doesn't understand the basics of the issue.
For Jan Brewer, the issue of immigration reform vs. border security comes down to this: "But, I think the concern is is, which comes first, the duck or the egg." And to think, she's allowed to own shoes with shoelaces and to handle sharp objects. Ain't America grand?
I'm confident both Brewer and Rubio will move from runners-up to winners before too long.
We could go on. This was the week, after all, during which Wayne LaPierre of the NRA explained that there was no point in extending background checks to private gun sales because criminals won't buy guns when there are background checks in place, so what's the point? and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R/SC) demonstrated his total unwillingness to ever let go of the fact that there's no actual scandal in the Benghazi "scandal," and Lindsey's pal, my own Sen. John McCain (R/AZ), who couldn't have been more wrong about virtually every aspect of American foreign policy since 9/11 if he had come from the future but only studied history in the Mirror Universe, demanding to know if Chuck Hagel believes he was "right or wrong" when he opposed the surge in Iraq. But this series will never be able to call out every idiot in a position of responsibility. That would be a full-time job, and then some.
Unless there's some idiot out there who wants to pay me for this...