Gradual Return, Featuring Huntsman and Ryan

By James Fallows

salvador-dali-melting-clocks.jpgI am physically just back from China; mentally still lost and adrift somewhere in the noosphere; and in body-clock terms -- well, how convenient that Salvador Dali so precisely imagined the state of my current body-clock (right) many years ago.

For now I have just barely enough energy to thank the final outstanding group of Guest Bloggers in this space -- David Allen, Julio Friedmann, Kentaro Toyama, and Michele Travierso -- who rounded out this experiment in such impressive style, plus the Atlantic's Justin Miller and John Hendel who shepherded them and their predecessors through the blogging process.

Some time soon, most likely around 3 or 4 am, I intend to begin weighing in further about:

- My gratitude to the 40-plus other guests who over the past two months have shared experiences, developed arguments, and -- for me at least -- provided surprises in this space. I'll say something about them all, by name.

- A slew of other issues that have piled up, of which at the moment I can stand to mention only two, each involving a rising Republican politician.

The one involving Jon Huntsman Jr., in his last days as U.S. Ambassador to China, was his unexpected but heartening public condemnation today of the wave of arrests, crackdown, and repression so dramatically taking place in China at the moment. His statement was unexpected, in that ambassadors usually avoid "meddling" in host-country affairs this way, especially with one foot out the door; and it was heartening, because what has been happening in China over the past six weeks is the most unsettling step backward there in a very long time. More on the crackdown itself soon. It's too bad, again, that Huntsman muddied the end of his ambassadorship with possible presidential-campaign positioning, because in this latest statement he should be seen as speaking for the whole American nation and not any partisan subset.

The one involving Rep. Paul Ryan is of course his budget plan. There are people who consider Ryan "courageous" and "serious" and bravely "truth-telling" for the ideas he has put together. David Brooks has been most unrestrained in this view. There are others who consider the plan gimmick-ridden, fiscally and economically harmful, politically unrealistic verging on suicidal  (for Republicans), and in the words of the Economist's "Democracy in America" column, "fundamentally immoral." Count me with this latter group.

Details and "reasoning" to come, no doubt sometime around 4am, and mainly involving the history and future of Medicare. For the moment, these to-me convincing words from another Republican (non-elected category), the former Bush speechwriter David Frum:

>>The debt reduction plan actually increases the debt over the medium term -- by even more President Obama's budget would.... The real message of the Ryan plan is: Upper-income tax cuts now; spending cuts for the poor now; more deficits now; spending cuts for middle-income people much later; spending cuts for today's elderly, never...

As politics, the message is even worse than the economics. Cut Medicaid and Medicare to fund tax cuts? Isn't that the issue that returned Bill Clinton to the White House in 1996?... And if the plan did somehow become law, is it not a formula for an economy in the 2010s that will underperform for most people in the same way that the economy of the 2000s underperformed for most people?

Those are the questions that will worry economists and swing voters alike. But the plan is not written for economists and swing voters. It is written for the GOP core. Yet one has to wonder: What happens to a party that invests so much energy talking to itself?<<

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