Phony Hawkery

This is something that other people have mentioned, and Jamelle brings up in his extremely helpful post about Paul Ryan, but it really needs to be emphasized: Paul Ryan is not a "deficit hawk." No matter how many times the news media tell us, it doesn't make it true. As I've said before, you can't call yourself a deficit hawk if the only programs you want to cut are the ones you don't like anyway. Show me someone who's willing to cut programs he favors (Ryan isn't), and would actually take potentially painful measures to balance the budget (Ryan wouldn't), and that's a deficit hawk. Ryan, on the other hand, is a conservative ideologue who couches what Newt Gingrich appropriately called "right-wing social engineering" in a lot of talk about making tough choices. But I've never actually seen Paul Ryan make a "tough" choice, at least one that was tough for him. There's nothing "tough" about a conservative Republican who tells you he wants to slash Medicare and Medicaid, increase defense spending, and cut taxes for the wealthy. That's like Homer Simpson telling you he's making the tough choice to skip the salad and eat three dozen donuts instead.

But oh boy, have the media ever bought into the idea of Ryan as the courageous budget-cutter. "A Beltway Budget Hawk Gets a Chance to Sell Vision" says The Wall Street Journal. "Paul Ryan: Hawk on Budget and Tea Party Darling" says the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We know Paul Ryan is a budget hawk. But what about other issues?" says the Christian Science Monitor. And that's just a few headlines; there are hundreds of stories referring to Ryan as a "fiscal hawk," a "budget hawk," and a "deficit hawk."

So why does he get described this way so often? I think it's because the establishment media have become devoted to a particular narrative, which says that the country is deeply threatened by the future growth of Social Security and Medicare, and anyone who has the "courage" to propose cuts to those programs is a hero (Time's Michael Grunwald did an excellent examination last year of all kinds of people weirdly praising Ryan's courage). And even if, like Ryan, you also want to slash taxes and increase the deficit, you're still a hero.

It's strange how you never see the members of the congressional Progressive Caucus, who want to cut defense spending and bring in more tax revenues than Ryan does, described as "deficit hawks," or, heaven forbid, "courageous." Representative Jan Schakowsky, for instance, put out a plan that balances the budget in a much shorter amount of time than Paul Ryan's plan, but does so primarily through a combination of tax increases and defense cuts. Nobody calls Schakowsky a "deficit hawk" or praises her "courage" on fiscal issues, even though her proposal is far more realistic and less cruel than Ryan's. Could it have something to do with the fact that your average Washington 1 percenter actually thinks slashing programs for the poor and cutting taxes for the wealthy is a smashing idea?

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