He is like a singer who has suddenly discovered his lack of relative pitch while on stage, and now worries that every note he’s belting out is off-key. As we talk, he chooses his words with extreme care, and is prone to halting self-censorship. At one point, as he tells me about his efforts during the presidential race to get the Romney campaign to spend more time in urban areas, he says, “I wanted to do these inner-city tours – ” then he stops abruptly and corrects himself. “I guess we’re not supposed to use that.” …
It would be easy to use stuff like this to ridicule him for his tone-deafness, his white-guyness, his sheltered cluelessness. But Ryan, by his own admission, is receiving his sensitivity training in real time. He has charged headfirst into the war on poverty without a helmet; zealously and clumsily fighting for a segment of the American public that his party hasn’t reached since the Depression-era shantytowns that lined the Hudson River were named after Herbert Hoover. It is frequently awkward and occasionally embarrassing, but it is also better than staying on the sidelines.
Yglesias snarks that the article has everything “except for even a teeny tiny shred of insight into how Paul Ryan’s policy ideas will impact poor people”:
For example, what does Ryan’s budget mean for the poor? Well it turns out that the majority of his budget cuts come from programs that benefit poor people.
He wants to reduce spending on poor people’s Medicaid benefits. And on their nutrition assistance. And on their college tuition assistance. And on their access to subsidized private health insurance. Ryan does cut some programs that aren’t aimed at helping low-income Americans, but mostly he cuts programs for the poor.
At the same time as it cuts spending on the poor, Ryan’s budget also has tax provisions. Specifically he calls for $5.7 trillion worth of tax rate cuts. That money, he says, will be made up through unspecified reductions to tax credits and tax deductions. When the Tax Policy Center analyzed the distributive implications of this kind of plan, they found that it increases the after-tax income of the rich while raising taxes on the working- and middle-class.
Meanwhile, Chait sees Ryan “altering the basis for his public appeal in a significant way”:
Ryan burst upon the national scene by presenting himself as a wonk’s wonk, the concerned, helpful man with the calculator here to help America avoid its fiscal crisis. Ryan the Wonk did not always know what he was talking about, but the important thing is that he looked like he did.
The newer iteration wants to make his case in non-pecuniary terms. Point out that his budget enacts a massive upward redistribution of income, and he will tell you about his soul. It is very much the same method used by George W. Bush to ward off criticisms of his fiscal priorities. (When Al Gore stated during a 2000 presidential debate that Bush had taken funding from children’s health insurance in order to cut taxes for oil companies, Bush replied, “If he’s trying to allege that I’m a hard-hearted person and I don’t care about children, he’s absolutely wrong.”) It’s a tactic that meets both Ryan’s needs and the needs of journalists possessed of great confidence in their ability to judge the sincerity of political theater.