Monday, January 31, 2011

Weekend at Paulie's

It's hard not to look across the Conservative landscape and not try to pick out the likely challenger for 2012 and Barry O. That being said, the choices are pretty much a combination of the fringy deranged paranoids (Palin, Bachmann), the washed up self-parodies (Gingrich, Giuliani, Romney) and the melba-toast lingerers (Huckabee, Pawlenty). Realistically, any of these options are basically a sacrificial lamb, because there's no way they'd beat Obama in a head to head matchup.

Lingering in the background is the young Congressman from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan. He's a young, good looking guy, with facially moderate views, and no major skeletons thus far (I'm assuming there isn't a "wide stance" or Argentine Newscaster around the corner, but perhaps that's too generous). The interesting thing here, is the way he's being presented--the new economic expert. Within the last two years he's submitted his own version of the Federal Budget, and delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union. This cat's setting himself to be the rising star of the GOP over the next few years and the main player for them in 2016.

The Conservative set has tried to cast him as a not just a fairly smart guy, but as a straight up expert. The problem with this, is that he really just isn't. I think of it like "Weekend At Bernie's," where the two pals end up with a dead body that they have to convince everyone is really still alive and having a good time. Sure it didn't make sense, but hey, it was easier just to roll with it and throw Bernie on the boat for a spin. Is our man Ryan an economist? No. Does he have anything beyond a BA at decent school? No. Does he wear sunglasses at parties? Hmm....

Hell, by now he's gotten good at the "I'm actually very smart, even if I actually am not making any sense, because I smile a lot and sound calm." If we were watching this on Telemundo, we'd be all set if we couldn't translate and just assumed that what he was explaining wasn't 200% made up jibberish. He was talking recently in his State of the Union reply about how bad of shape Greece, Ireland, and the UK are now (presumedly because of high taxes, over regulation, and high government spending to support a derelict populace, etc.). The problem with this, are that Greece's problem was a combination of a decades-long fraudulent government scheme to hide debts, corruption, and an under developed economy. Ireland's problem was a lack of any meaningful banking regulation, wild speculation by investment houses, and a huge property bubble collapse. The UK is probably the most relevant comparison for his point, but it's important to note that the cost-cutting measures he's supporting haven't generated the promised fixes and they were, as of 2006, the UK was recognized by the Heritage Foundation as having more "Economic Freedom" than the US (5th Highest, overall).

Inherently, the response he's looking for is "Damn! He's talking about multiple countries and even comparing them. This must be important and smart!" The problem with all this, of course, is that it's pure hogwash, and the numbers just don't make any sense. Comparing these countries is basically akin to say that Detroit and Las Vegas are both struggling for the same reason--too many street lights.

Similarly, the whole budget proclamation is all about broad generalizations, with some wild speculations tied to made-up numbers. There's a pattern of basically using some numbers to make half a point, and then just making up the rest (Thus, a 50% increase in revenue divided by a 10% shift from the public sector to private sector= Obama's a Socialist). That, or they just don't exist, because he didn't actually, as the economic experts say, "use any actual numbers or do any math."

Anyways, the real takeaway is that this guy's not going away any time soon. He's going to emerge as the inexplicable economic theorist of the Conservative political class, largely by default. But the fact that we're being sold this story of his great financial mind shouldn't cloud the fact that he's really just some guy. He's alive, which gives him a leg up on Bernie, but they're bringing the same amount of legit material to the table.

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