Saturday, August 11, 2012

Two Americas, Two Centers

cross-posted at Dagblog

I'm not going to add to the discussion of the Ryan pick except to say that Romney did it to placate his base. No, not the conservatives. The other Republican base: political reporters and "non-partisan" op-ed writers. Self-described "centrists" in the media love love love them some Paul Ryan, although actual middle-of-the-road Americans don't especially. That needs thinking about.

We have two versions of the political center in this country: one for the elite and one for the rest of us. There is a political "center" on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post which doesn't bear any real relationship to what most moderates or independents out in the rest of the country seem to want. Paul Ryan's treatment in the press is a glaring demonstration.

Ryan is very popular on the right wing of the Republican Party, and widely loathed on the left of the Democratic Party. As Sara Libby puts it, " Republicans finally got their dream pick , and Democrats get their dream opponent." This is the definition of a polarizing figure. And Ryan advocates things that a majority of voters oppose, like privatizing Medicare and slashing almost all domestic spending. He also advocates getting rid of Social Security, but the other Republicans kept him from putting that in his so-called "budget plan." If your major proposals are widely unpopular with moderate voters, you really can't call yourself a centrist.

But the press calls Ryan a centrist all the time, and they stubbornly enamored of his radical budget plan. (Michael Grunwald explains this best (h/t Jamelle Bouie).) Ryan is firmly in the center of the Beltway-dinner-party conventional wisdom, in which the true mark of a "moderate" is opposition to almost all entitlement spending and a "daring" resolve to make deep cuts in Medicare and Social Security benefits.

Maybe the peddlers of this conventional wisdom have no idea how stingy those benefits really are, if you actually need them. After all, none of the people peddling these ideas expect to need Social Security, even as the third leg of a retirement stool, or to need Medicare. Or perhaps the wise men of the dinner-party circuit do know how small those benefits are, and are simply unable to imagine that sums that can small could ever be anything but extra money. Social Security pays so much less than their pensions and their IRA accounts that they themselves would hardly notice if it were gone. So to them it's obviously just a frill. Who could possibly live on a monthly payment like that?

Out in the rest of the country, people are all too aware of how little Social Security pays. And far too many know far too well what it means to try to get by on Social Security payments alone. Those people don't traffic in the version of "fiscal realism" that's popular among the punditocracy. They deal with basic economic realities instead. The middle of the road looks different to the middle class, because they have a different road to walk.

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