How Brave Is Paul Ryan?

To be sure, Paul Ryan is brave.

That's the widespread moderate reaction to Ryan's budget-slashing budget. He might be a monster, a bizarro class warrior, a heartless, draconian reverse-Robin Hood robber of the the American family. But how brave to put all that nasty stuff on paper!

Washington's badge of courage for Ryan is an awkward honor. His ideas are widely reviled among moderate think tanks and Washington offices. Reducing Medicare by capping payments to seniors is one part reform and three parts politically-unacceptable rationing. It is, as my colleague Graeme Wood once said, a bit like trying to lose weight by binging on doughnuts while wearing a tight corset.

Ryan's enthusiasm for slashing Medicare is shared by only 4 percent of the public. Four percent. The United States has eight times more ghost-believers than wannabe-Medicare-cutters. This is absurd, but it's also refreshing. There is something redeeming about politicians sailing by their own values rather than tacking to adjust for every gust of public polling.

But where was this applause in November, when Rep. Jan Schakowsky, the most liberal member of the president deficit commission, proposed an equally bold proposal to fix out budget. She reformed Social Security exclusively with tax increases on people making more than $106,000. She cut spending but found 90 percent of the fat in defense. Then she killed $130 billion in tax benefits for companies without lowering their rate, leaving us with perhaps the highest effective corporate tax rate in the developed world. In all, her plan was 90 percent higher taxes and defense cuts. Ninety percent.

Calling for an historically high tax increase for the rich and corporate America is just as bold and courageous on the merits as a call for the end of Medicare and Medicaid, isn't it? Why are Ryan's ideas greeted with a hero's welcome, even among moderates who disagree, while Schakowsky's ideas were written off as boilerplate liberalism outside the lefty blogosphere?

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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