The Naive Opposition


Ezra Klein, on Paul Ryan's alternative budget:

It's not what you do when you're responsible for running the government. It's what you propose when you're responsible for running the messaging.

I understand what he's getting at, but this phrasing makes it sound like the House Republicans' budget is an exercise in cynicism and partisan political calculation - which is exactly the wrong way to look at what's going on with the House GOP. Sure, there may be some cynicism involved in how the Ryan proposal makes its numbers add up. But the overall outline - an across-the-board tax cut and a flatter tax code, substantial means-testing for Social Security and Medicare, and a five-year discretionary spending freeze - strikes me as the opposite of cynical. Rather, there's a kind of deep innocence about it: The purity of its small-government vision is more detached from the grubby realities of American politics than any similar document I can remember. It's as if the Democratic Party, in the aftermath of it's 2002 and 2004 defeats, had proposed an alternative to George W. Bush's wartime budgets that slashed defense spending dramatically, raised income taxes across the board, and invested all of the resulting revenue in a revivified AFDC, a massive cash grant to the UN, and a big new federal jobs program for "green-collar" workers, community organizers, and Planned Parenthood clinicians.

Now maybe the Democrats should have done just that. Certainly there are left-liberal voices who would have welcomed an explicitly social-democratic alternative to Bushism, as a means of widening the bounds of political discourse, and opening new vistas on the left. Sometimes naivete in the short run is wisdom in the long run. And maybe by providing such a rigorously small-government alternative to Obamanomics, the Congressional GOP will succeed in pushing the conversation rightward, and moving important but hard-to-sell ideas like means-testing entitlements into the mainstream where they belong.

But sometimes naivete is just naivete. Sometimes, putting your least-popular ideas together in one agenda just makes it easier for your opponents to run circles around you. And right now, I think the country could use a right-of-center party that paid a little more attention to its messaging, and a little less attention to its blueprints for the ideal small-government society.

Jump to comments

Ross Douthat is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air