I love Paul Krugman. Unlike most economists (apologies to certain of my academic colleagues), he writes clearly–as if he is actually interested in communicating, rather than impressing–and more often than not, he hits that proverbial nail squarely on the head.
Even for Krugman, though, “The Crazies and the Con Man” was exceptional. Krugman’s subject was the GOP effort to get Paul Ryan to accept the Speaker’s gavel. You really need to click through and read the entire column, but I’ll share a few of the gems:
What makes Mr. Ryan so special? The answer, basically, is that he’s the best con man they’ve got. His success in hoodwinking the news media and self-proclaimed centrists in general is the basis of his stature within his party. Unfortunately, at least from his point of view, it would be hard to sustain the con game from the speaker’s chair.
To understand Mr. Ryan’s role in our political-media ecosystem, you need to know two things. First, the modern Republican Party is a post-policy enterprise, which doesn’t do real solutions to real problems. Second, pundits and the news media really, really don’t want to face up to that awkward reality….
After offering several examples of the GOP’s lack of policy seriousness (where is that alternate health plan??), Krugman hones in on the real problem:
Most of the news media, and most pundits, still worship at the church of “balance.” They are committed to portraying the two big parties as equally reasonable. This creates a powerful demand for serious, honest Republicans who can be held up as proof that the party does too include reasonable people making useful proposals….
But Mr. Ryan has been very good at gaming the system, at producing glossy documents that look sophisticated if you don’t understand the issues…He is to fiscal policy what Carly Fiorina was to corporate management: brilliant at self-promotion, hopeless at actually doing the job. But his act has been good enough for media work.
Krugman attributes Ryan’s reluctance to take the Speaker position to a recognition that his “con” wouldn’t survive the additional scrutiny.
Predictions aside, however, the Ryan phenomenon tells us a lot about what’s really happening in American politics. In brief, crazies have taken over the Republican Party, but the media don’t want to recognize this reality. The combination of these two facts has created an opportunity, indeed a need, for political con men. And Mr. Ryan has risen to the challenge.
I hate to sound like a broken record, but this analysis–like so many others–points to the American media’s major contribution to the cluster-f**k that is our current national legislative branch. Until the media and those of us who depend upon it for essential information understand and appreciate the difference between balance and accuracy, we will continue to be disappointed by con men.
And wonder why our government doesn’t work anymore.