Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
Clive Crook says:
The Ryan Selection: Game Change, Part Deux: It's good for the country that Romney has chosen Ryan, because it means we're going to be discussing policy for a while….
There follows a paragraph that doesn't say a word about policies… a second paragraph that doesn't say a word about policies… a third paragraph that doesn't say a word about policies… a fourth paragraph that doesn't say a word about policies… a fifth paragraph that doesn't say a word about policies…
And then comes Crook's paragraph seven, about policies in generalities:
In any event, the electorate has a sharper choice than before. Compared to the alternative, Obama is offering a more generous safety net, more investment in infrastructure, higher taxes (especially for the rich), and a larger role for government in the economy. Romney, again compared to the alternative, is now more plainly offering less provision for the poor, less public investment, lower taxes (especially for the rich), and a smaller role for government.
But then comes paragraph eight, which says that paragraph seven is wrong--that we aren't being offered sharp choices but rather phony choices:
It's a clear choice, to be sure, but forgive me for saying in many ways also a false choice, so let's not get carried away. What the Democrats are offering can't be done: You can't spend as they say they'll spend without increasing everybody's taxes. And although what the Republicans are promising could be done, it won't be: The spending cuts they envisage are arithmetically possible but so severe they're politically impossible, supposing the GOP ever gets the chance to try.
The second half of Crook's paragraph eight is correct. The first half of the paragraph is not correct--it is an artifact of Crook's addiction to "balance", his claim that both parties must be equally blameable and equally wrong. If you go to the Congressional Budget Office's Long-Term Budget Outlook you find this graph of the fiscal sustainability of the federal government:
Because of the cuts to Medicare spending growth projected to follow from the elimination of the failed Medicare Advantage experiment and the workings of the IPAB, and because of the revenue raised directly and indirectly by the excise tax on high-cost health care plans, as long as Congress sticks to PAYGO--or as long as the President vetoes bills that violate PAYGO--and thus every change in law that increases spending relative to baseline is funded by a tax increase, or every tax cut is funded by a law that reduces spending relative to baseline--we are fine in the long run as far as the deficit is concerned. Hard choices still have to be made within the PAYGO framework as to what to do, yes. But at least in CBO's estimation it's not the case that the Democratic Party's program "can't be done".
And then comes paragraph 9, which is also not about policies:
Arguing over choices that can't or won't be implemented is still a big improvement over debating Obama's supposed contempt for effort and Romney's supposed criminality. It could actually shed some light on trade-offs. Here's one. Are middle-class Americans willing to pay somewhat higher taxes in return for more public goods and better social protection? That would be an interesting thing to know, finally. Maybe this election will help the country make up its mind.
And then comes paragraph 10, which is also not about policies:
Ryan or no Ryan, there's a limit to what this contest can resolve--short of a landslide and both houses of Congress lining up with the new administration. (Remember, campaigning for 2014 starts in December, something to look forward to.) The Great Debate will never be settled. Still, a decisive Obama victory over Romney-Ryan, or vice versa, following an animated debate about policies as well as personalities, would give the country a short, sharp push in one direction or the other. Ryan on the ticket makes the election a bigger deal than it was yesterday. I'm for that.
Why do I think that Clive Crook has forgotten what it means to discuss policies?