Last year, the New York Times’ David Brooks was one of the pundits who declared Paul Ryan “brave” and “serious” for his proposal to pillage the social safety net and direct the spoils to rich people. Since then—and in particular, the debt ceiling showdown—Brooks has become a bit more circumspect about hailing the genius of politicians who promise to solve our problems by yanking security from the vulnerable.
Despite this, he still can’t help himself when it comes to the young Wisconsin congressman. To wit, after President Obama attacked Ryan’s latest budget for imposing costly cuts on programs for the poor, the elderly, and the infirm, Brooks emerged to scold the president for “exaggeration”:
Under Ryan, Obama charged, 10 million college students would get their financial aid cut by $1,000, Alzheimer’s research would be slashed, 200,000 children would lose their chance to enter Head Start.
Where did Obama get these specifics? He imagined them. He imposed some assumptions that are nowhere to be found in the Ryan budget. He compared Ryan’s reduced spending increases with proposed growth, not current levels.
Here’s the thing: if Obama “imposed some assumptions,” it’s because Ryan—or anyone else in the Republican Party—refuses to specify cuts he would make to the federal budget. At the same time, of course, he wants to shower the military with more funding, and reduce taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
If you disregard the magical assumptions of rapid economic growth—which form the basis of Ryan’s argument for why you should listen to him—the only way to square this circle is with massive cuts to existing social services. And absent any specificity from Paul Ryan, I think it’s reasonable to assume an equitable distribution of cuts. Indeed, Brooks says as much at the beginning of his column, “The Ryan budget would cut too deeply into discretionary spending. This could lead to self-destructive cuts in scientific research, health care for poor kids and programs that boost social mobility.”
It takes a remarkable amount of disingenuousness to blame Obama for the flaws in Ryan’s plan. Thankfully, David Brooks is up to the task.