A Tug O’ the Forelock

In the second-day discussion of Paul Ryan’s latest budget proposal, the dominant theme among critics is that this document does not exactly reflect any growth or willingness to compromise by the defeated 2012 vice presidential nominee. TNR’s Jonathan Cohn offered an analogy:

Imagine Walter Mondale returning to Congress in 1985 and proposing a budget that undid President Reagan’s agenda and reduced deficits by raising taxes on the middle class—in other words, the exact same thing he’d proposed in his losing campaign for the presidency.

Republicans would object that Romney-Ryan didn’t lose as badly as Mondale-Ferraro, and in any event, disagreeing with Ronald Reagan was an act of sacrilege, not just politics (I’m only half-kidding here). Still, the general point holds: in the 1980s, when Democrats found themselves on the south end of a northbound electoral-demographic trend line, they adjusted pretty dramatically, or at least had big and ideologically meaningful arguments about it with the forces of the status quo ante having the burden of persuasion. Republicans in a similar situation seem determined to scream defiance at the electorate. Their way is the Truth and the Light, and it’s the country which needs to adjust!

But let’s don’t forget the specific reason for the specific contours of this latest Ryan Budget. As Will Marshall points out in a piece at RCP:

What, then, is the point of this exercise? One is to draw the sharpest possible contrast with Democratic calls for tax increases and faintheartedness when it comes to slowing health care spending. But Ryan’s budget also is a concession to restive Tea Party conservatives in the House. Earlier this year, they reluctantly agreed to back a temporary extension of the government’s borrowing authority. In return, the Republican House leadership promised a new plan to balance the budget in 10 years.

That’s right: Ryan’s budget is a tug of the forelock by the House GOP to the Cut-Cap-Balance crowd who think a radical and permanent reduction in domestic spending, read right into the Constitution, should be the eternal message of the Republican Party, no matter what happens electorally. All their endless and redundant RINO-bashing and demands for adherence to “conservative principle” reflect that belief-set. The American people are to be offered a chance to reverse the tragic mistake they made in 1964, again and again until they finally get it right. So it’s important to Ryan’s core constituency that the party’s largely symbolic budget documents keep on that shining path, world without end.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.