A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Catholic Randians and Prudential Judgments

Just to stir the pot a little... Catholic conservatives frequently distinguish between disagreeing with the Church's views on abortion/gay marriage/stem cell research and a departing from the Church's views on the death penalty/torture/war/economic justice. The idea, as then Cardinal Ratzinger laid out in his July 2004 letter on receiving communion, is that the former are intrinsically evil, whereas the evil of the latter positions depends on some degree of prudential judgment:

For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

There are lots of questions about this distinction that have been raised here and elsewhere. I don't want to get into those again in this post. My question is a different one. What are we to do when a Catholic politician seems to reject the principle underlying the prudential judgment? For example, there may be "legitimate diversity of opinion" about waging THIS particular war or applying the death penalty in THIS particular case. But what if the politician rejects the broader exhortation to "seek peace, not war"? Surely -- in the magisterium's view -- there is no room for legitimate diversity of opinion on that more general matter of principle. Similarly, while there may be a great deal of legitimate diversity of opinion concerning how best to promote the well being of the poorest, surely (on the magisterium's view of its own authority) there is no legitimate diversity of opinion concerning the mandate to structure social policy toward that end. Thus, a Catholic politician who said that he was structuring social policy precisely because government has no obligation towards the poorest, could not be said to differ from the Church on a matter of mere prudential judgment.I take it no one would disagree with the foregoing. Perhaps my next assertion will be more controversial.

I think it is fair to hold political figures to some standard of plausibility in the empirical assertions underlying their prudential judgments. And where their empirical claims are utterly lacking in empirical foundation, then it is fair to say that they are likely lying when they claim that their prudential judgments represent an effort to conform their reasoning to certain moral principles. I assume, for example, that if a Catholic pro-choice politician says that he accepts the Church's teaching on abortion but that he believes that legally prohibiting abortion will increase the abortion rate and so opposes legal prohibition for that reason, pro-life Catholics would argue that he is acting within the boundaries of a "legitimate diversity of opinion." At a minimum, I think they would require some significant empirical support to back up his claim before they would concede the good faith of his prudential judgment.On similar grounds, it seems to me that the Ryan plan -- and Ryan himself -- can plausibly be accused of simply disregarding basic principles of Catholic social thought, not just prudential judgments about how best to achieve those principles. At the most basic level, the structure of his plan -- cutting taxes for the wealthiest and for corporations while slashing benefits for the poorest and most vulnerable -- does not square with the Church's mandate to structure social policy in a way that is fundamentally focused on the well-being of the poorest, a kind of maximin principle. Still, the argument might go, this sort of restructuring of government's operations could be reconciled with Catholic principle if it were the case that massively cutting taxes for the rich and increasing the economic burdens on the poor would stimulate the economy to such a degree that the resulting prosperity would create a rising tide that would lift all boats. This was, I assume, the purpose of citing to the Heritage Foundation study predicting that the Ryan plan tax cuts would increase revenue and would produce incredibly low levels of unemployment. Now that the Heritage study has been pretty universally rejected, however, what is the case for structuring a debt reduction plan along the lines of the Ryan plan? Can the debunked supply-side logic of self-funding tax cuts and the associated trickle-down prosperity justify Catholic support for a plan with the features of the Ryan Plan as consistent with the preferential option for the poor? It seems to me that that can be the case only if we impose absolutely no burden of plausibility on the empirical assumptions underlying prudential application of those principles. [In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we should simply interpret the plan as intending to do what it does: improve the situation of the best off and then making up for that (and, in addition, reducing the debt over the long term) at the almost exclusive expense of some of the most vulnerable. And such an intent runs contrary to the principles of Catholic social teaching -- it does not reflect the prudential application of those principles.]And, frankly, as for Ryan himself, I don't see why we should give him the benefit of the doubt. As is well documented, the man is a ardent admirer or Ayn Rand. He requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. And he has credited Rand with his decision to enter public service. Rand's objectivist philosophy rejects the notion that the government has any obligation to help the poorest. Rather, its purpose is to protect rights of private property and enforce market transactions in order to unleash the most creative and gifted among us.In trying to interpret Ryan's motives, we have a couple of choices. On the one hand, we can say that he's trying to help the poorest, notwithstanding any empirical evidence that his plan will do that. On the other hand, we can say that he's implementing Rand's anti-Christian objectivist philosophy, which he has credited with motivating him to enter public service. [He's either blinded to empirical reality by his ideological commitments and actually believes we make the help the poor by handing money to the rich and cutting health care for the poor, or he's intending to do what his plan straightforwardly seems designed to do -- reduce state-imposed burdens on the rich and let the poor fend for themselves.] It seems to me that, given the evidence about his admiration for Rand, the most plausible interpretation is the latter. There's no question that his plan, if implemented, would dismantle two of the pillars of the post-War welfare state (Medicare and Medicaid) while putting more money in the pockets of the wealthy. But if Ryan's purpose is to move us closer to the objectivist ideal espoused by Rand, then it seems to me that he is beyond the boundaries of legitimate prudential disagreement. He is applying principles that directly contradict those of Catholic social teaching.[I've updated the post slightly, with the substantive changes in brackets.]


Commenting Guidelines

The Tea Party's love of Rand gives a whole new meaning to La Palin's challenge to the GOP to start fighting like a girl...

@Patrick Molloy (10:17 am) I mostly agree that "If both Obama and Ryan were to disappear from the scene and if Marx and Rand had never lived we would be having the same debates over principles." There might be some variation in the exact principles, but we'd certainly still be debating.Likewise it may be true that "everything in Obamas program could be found in the academic hothouses of the American Left", I just want to observe for the record that:1 - Obama taught for several years at the University of Chicago Law School which is not generally considered one of the "academic hothouses of the American Left"; and,2 - Obama attended Columbia College which prides itself on its "core curriculum" which, at least in the 1980s, was distinguished by its heavy concentration on the Western intellectual and artistic tradition of the past 2,500 years (not by its openness to left-wing intellectual fads).

Luke Hill -I yield to no one in my admiration for the University of Chicago. I spent 4 years of graduate study there and am still benefiting from what I learned there, the finest university in the land, perhaps the world.Heres Richard Epstein, a colleague of Obama when he was at the U of C Law School. In Epsteins view Obama was almost entirely unaffected by the Chicago magic:He was actually a bad Chicago faculty member in this sense: He was an adjunct, and we always hoped hed participate in the general intellectual discourse, but he was always so busy with collateral adventures that he essentially kept to himself. The problem when you keep to yourself is you dont get to hear strong ideas articulated by people who disagree with you. So he passed through Chicago without absorbing much of the internal culture.. . . .He was always a tremendously engaging and charming individual, but hes not the kind of guy who likes to be pushed. He has a way of listening to you to make it appear as though youre the only person in the world who matters. And then when its all done, now what does he believe? Hes amazingly good at playing intellectual poker. But thats a disadvantage, because if you dont put your ideas out there to be shot down, youre never going to figure out what kind of revision you want. His mind is set in concrete. If he thought a stimulus would work in 2009, he thinks it today. no one seems to remember Obama from Columbia.

Reality-based reaction to Obama's speech last week from Bruce Bartlett at The Fiscal Times:

It is futile to try to solve America's problems by maintaining that Obama or the Democrats are the bad guys and Boehner or the Republicans are the good guys. It is equally futile to try to solve America's problems by maintaining that Obama or the Democrats are the good guys and Boehner or the Republicans are the bad guys. You can trash the Democrats or the Republicans all you want, but they represent the two major philosophies of government held by the American people. Those philosophies are irreconcilable, so the country will swing back and forth somewhere in the middle between them.All this finger pointing doesn't get us very far. Democrats and Republicans both must take responsibility for running up deficits, and both Democrats and Republicans must now arrive at a solution, because you can't have a one-party solution to a problem this big.

Luke and Patrick. re your posts.Who are these guys? You and the guys you quote are like the opposing fans who grumbled that Babe Ruth was out of shape. Maybe you are waiting for the GOP in 2012 to get a "He was always a tremendously engaging and charming individual' Get a chair, it will be a long wait.

Bill Mazella:In regards to your list,1. Bar all Catholics from the Holy Land. This will save countless lives.2. Strip all Catholics of weapons. Ditto.3. Get rid of all Cardinal and Episcopal apparel. This will facilitate humility.4. Get real jobs for all bishops and clergy. This will bolster the economy and health care.5. Add to this list,There appears to be an unacknowledged entity in charge of executing of said list. Who (or what) might that be, hmm?

@Luke Hill - May I suggest you replace your linked column from Bartlett with the following from The Atlantic? I find it to be much more reality-based than the kissing-up job being done by Bartlett in his piece, who seems more intent these days on sticking it those mean-old Republicans who disagree with him and proving his newly-found liberal bone fides.To attempt to characterize Obama's speech as fair and balanced is a bit too much to take. I think The Atlantic column is much more accurate:

Ten years ago Rep. Ryan was concerned that federal budget surpluses were too high:Well well. And this is the point. Democrat Bill Clinton balanced the budget for several years without support from the Republicans here and elsewhere. Clearly it is a matter of politics and not of principle. Bob, The entity should be all of us. But talk is easy and cheap. Instead of Rand and Mars, we might be discussing how the popes and some fathers of the church corrupted Jesus. That would be to the point. Instead we wax Canon Law and statements of the popes which are irrelevant.

@Jeff Landry (3:04 pm) Thanks for linking Clive Crook's piece. For me, Bartlett's critique of Ryan's plan is more substantive (and more persuasive) than his support for Obama's speech (since, in terms of numbers, Obama's speech wasn't that substantive). (In terms of framing the ideological and programmatic differences, I thought Obama's speech was more successful.)

"GK Chesterton once wrote that we should never tear down a fence until we knew why it had been built. In the calamity after 2008, we rediscovered why the fences of the old social insurance state had been built."There's just something about a Jewish Republican immigrant confessing his own ideological evolution and citing G. K. Chesterton to defend the social welfare state that makes me happy to be American and Catholic.This ( ) is from the last in a five part series by David Frum, responding to "Beyond the Welfare State" by Yuval Levin ( ).

Luke - You might be interested in this reply by Reihan Salam to Frum's pieces. I haven't seen Yuval Levin's reply as of yet. course, Frum is a figure associated with so-called "Big Government Conservatism" or "Compassionate Conservatism", which of course wrought, among other things, the unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug program. I think he ignores significantly the cultural impact on a society of something like $.40 of every dollar soon to be going to caring for old people rather than "investing", either by government or via private enterprise, in the young and entrepreneurs. I find Yuval's desire to retain the essential "economic dynamsim" of the American economy convincing, and believe that is not inconsistent with maintaining welfare programs targeted mostly at the vulnerable. I have to press you a little bit. You have denied advocating a "tinker and tax" approach, or desiring to keep the current configuration of the welfare state, yet I have yet to see progressives suggesting ANYTHING close to the proposals being debated among conservatives. This seems to suggest to me that conservatives have captured the high ground in this debate, and that makes me very happy as an American, a Catholic, and a conservative.

"These measures (among other things) cut spending and benefits, raised taxes, simplified the tax code, led to budget surpluses and reduced deficits."Hi, Luke, yes, we should praise both parties when they do the right thing and criticize both parties when they do the wrong thing. You're right to point out the responsible things that Democrats (and Republicans) have done in the past. I would note that, despite that list of good efforts and intentions that you provided, many of them bipartisan, nevertheless we find ourselves in the straits we're in. I believe Standard and Poors is now warning of a credit downgrade of the United States government, because of the perceived risk of the government failing to take the necessary steps now to reduce the long-term deficit.Btw - I would like to ask you about the Affordable Care Act. I note that you consistently list it as a budget-reducing accomplishment. I am puzzled because my understanding (which admittedly is quite superficial) is that, even if one accepts the CBO's analysis of the Act's budget-reducing potential at face value, the Act's ability to reduce deficits hinges on the restoration of the Clinton tax rates, i.e. by putting an end to the tax rates enshrined by the 'Bush tax cuts'. Given that Congress, with the President's cooperation, has already failed to restore the Clinton tax rates, isn't the CBO's analysis already obsolete? When one considers further that the pressure to retain the current rates will be enormous when they are next due for sunsetting in a couple of years (absent a fundamental reform of the tax code, which I see as a necessary step for deficit reduction), I am of the opinion that it is premature, to say the least, to claim that ACA is a budget-reducer. I am not asking this as a "gotcha" question; I'd welcome clarification/explanation on this issue." Whats absent (to my knowledge) over the past generation is any deficit reduction effort undertaken by Republicans when they controlled the executive and legislative branches."Both parties have been abysmally short-sighted. Let's give the Republicans credit for doing the right thing now, no matter how late it seems. Will you now slaughter the fatted calf for them? :-)

Mary,Atlas Shrugged is not some sort of full exposition of Rand's philosophy. It's a story. And it's primary focus is on the destructive nature of state intervention in private, primarily economic, affairs. It says nothing about religion or abortion or any of the other issues raised in these posts. A free-market advocate like Ryan is not some sort of robotic acolyte of Rand because he found this story, that deals almost exclusively with that issue, influential.It is fascinating to me that so many of the posters and contributers here have full-blown obeisance to the bishops and the Vatican when it suits them, and when the bishops themselves explicitly allow that there can be differences of opinion on the means to an end, but when it comes to issues of morals and faith, well we know how that goes.

Hi, Sean,(For the record, I've not characterized Ryan as a "robotic acolyte" and I find "blind obeiscance" more difficult than "bird of paradise" as poses go, so I've quit attempting both.)Ryan's self-description is that Rand is his most significant influence, he obviously thinks AS is more than just a good story. He and plenty of Tea Partiers waving "Who is John Galt?" signs are part of a larger reemphasis on Randian Objectivism in the political sphere, which I find troubling. Would I reject his budget proposal on the basis of his Randyness? Of course not.Yup, it's a story. But stories tell us how to view the world. There are plenty of novels that feature a critique of oppressive government, but Ryan chose this one book as required reading for his staff. I find that interesting. Why not choose Huxley, Gillman, Dickens, Wells, Orwell, Atwood, Doestoevsky, Koestler, Hugo, Voltaire, Piercy, Steinbeck, etc., etc.? That he thinks so highly of Ayn Rand's view of society above all other options tells me something important about his intellect and values, even if by itself it doesn't tell me to reject his budget proposal. Cheers!

@Jim Pauwels (1:20 pm) Thanks for your question about the ACA and the Bush tax cuts. It's my understanding that the CBO's analysis of the ACA is not dependent on the Bush tax cuts---meaning that on its own terms the ACA reduces deficits over 10 and 20 year windows while expanding health coverage to 30 million currently uninsured people. I could be wrong about that. If someone else knows, please jump in.I'm not prepared to slaughter the fattened calf just yet (but I will keep feeding it). Should the Republicans cut a deal with Obama the way the Democrats did with Reagan and Bush Sr. (i.e., a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit), I will slaughter the calf for the feast. :-) (For what it's worth---and just to have it on the record, it was congressional Republicans last December who insisted on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% as their price for advancing any other meaningful legislation, including extending unemployment benefits. The annual cost of that tax cut for the wealthiest 2% far exceeds the $38 billion in cuts to the FY 2011 budget agreed to last week. That's the kind of action that has a growing number of Democrats persuaded that Republicans don't really care much about deficits, but care much more about tax cuts---particularly tax cuts for the affluent. Rep. Ryan's proposal to use much of the savings from Medicare and Medicaid cuts to pay for tax cuts for the affluent are another example.)

@Jeff Landry (10:12 am) Thanks for the link to Reihan Salam's article. I think somewhere in these threads over the last few days I've outlined some proposals I'd support, or at least consider as part of a package to deal with the issue of long-term federal deficits: e.g., cut defense spending, return income taxes to Clinton-era levels, reform the tax code, pass cap-and-trade or a carbon tax with, say, half the money raised rebated to the citizenry and at least a quarter of it used to spur the development of renewable energy sources, implement the ACA and build on it to further control health care inflation. I do feel a bit like the boy saying "the emperor has no clothes" when it comes to Chairman Ryan's proposal.*It's a framework that hasn't yet been put into legislative language, let alone scored by the CBO or the JCT;*Its budget projections are based on analysis by the Heritage Foundation which has a track record of faulty (and partisan) analysis, and whose own analysts have already admitted to errors in their work on this proposal;*It doesn't reduce federal deficits over the next decade, and then takes several more decades to balance the federal budget (so it's not much of "deficit reduction" proposal, in the view of many);*It repeals the ACA which both reduces the federal deficit over 10 and 20 year windows, and extends health coverage to 30 million uninsured people;*It does not attempt to replace the ACA;*It is primarily a health care cost-shifting proposal (moving major expenses off the budgets for federal and state governments and onto the budgets of individuals and their families), and not a health care cost-cutting proposal;*Most of its spending cuts (which affect the poor in the short-term and the middle-class in the medium-term) are used to pay for tax cuts (which disproportionately benefit the affluent).There are several other deficit-reduction plans floating around Washington currently, almost all of which are (in my view) more serious about deficit-reduction than Chairman Ryan's proposal.All of this, and I haven't even gotten to the fact that with 8.8% unemployment the primary issue in Washington should be jobs! (Again, in my view. Though in my defense, that's what congressional Republicans said last year, and many of them campaigned on the promise that the issue of jobs would be "job #1" when the new Congress began.)I've linked to several conservative critiques of Ryan's proposal because it's my political judgment that, in the short term, the power to reduce long-term federal deficits is in the hands of the Republican party. And a large faction of the Republican party seems to have adopted a hard-line ideological stance against any tax hikes and against a governmental role to ensure some level of economic security for individual citizens in the face of an overwhelmingly powerful market. Absent a change in that position (or me being wrong---which is probably easier and more likely), I'm pessimistic about the short-term prospects for deficit reduction.If I thought congressional Republicans were willing to cut a deal on terms similar to ones you've suggested (e.g., that includes higher taxes---at least on the wealthy, and possibly for most people), then I'd be more optimistic.

Any "deal" without closing tax loopholes, simplifying the tax codes, and dealing once and for all with US corporations blatantly avoiding (yes, I know they're doing it legally - therein lies the problem) paying income taxes to the US, won't be worth the paper it was compromised on.

@Jimmy Mac (6:45 pm) and @Jeff Landry (9:59 am) Could you support:1) a deficit reduction deal that included some mix of spending cuts, tax hikes and entitlement reforms? and,2) a revenue raising package that included some mix of closing loopholes, simplifying the tax code, capping deductions and increasing tax rates?

I agree with Jimmy Mac's point: simply raising the individual rate on high earners or even creating a new "millionaire's bracket" is unlikely to squeeze out enough revenue to close the gap. And that should be the focus: raising revenue. This is a point the Republicans have hammered, again ignored by some who rather paint them as cold greedy and uncaring. The tax code is literally bleeding revenue, so we need to ask what reform is most effective at raising revenue, and I think closing loopholes, simplifying the Code and capping deductions (all Republican initiatives) is likely to be more effective than hiking rates (alone). Shifting some of the burden to consumption rather than income might also be worth considering.Of course if the goal is something other than or in addition to raising revenue ("stick it to the rich"), then hiking rates might be acceptable.

"Im not prepared to slaughter the fattened calf just yet (but I will keep feeding it). Should the Republicans cut a deal with Obama the way the Democrats did with Reagan and Bush Sr. (i.e., a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes to reduce the deficit), I will slaughter the calf for the feast. :-)"Me too. I can't help thinking that we may be in a moment here where the solution is within our grasp.From a political-calculation POV, and supposing that the party configurations of White House and Congress don't change significantly in the wake of the '12 election, I wonder if it is more likely that bipartisan deal would be reached post-election? Probably not. Politically, it seems there is never a good time to raise taxes.

"I do feel a bit like the boy saying the emperor has no clothes when it comes to Chairman Ryans proposal."Jeff --I'm sure, given your constituency, that has taken courage. I voted for Rep. Cao last go-round, the only Republican I've ever voted for save one, because of his integrity. You seem to be walking in his path. God bless you.

There seems to be some implication that I am an elected Congressman. That is not the case, although I do share the name with a Republican Congressman from Louisiana.

Oops -- Sorry, Jeff. Grant addressed you as "Rep.", so I assumed you were the Congressman from Lafayette.But good for you anyway for breaking ranks with those who seem incapable of change or compromise. it's the lock=step thinking on both sides that will be the death of this nation.

My apologies.

Luke @10:28. Reservedly - yes.The devil is always in the details. "Entitlement reforms" is open-ended and needs a lot of definition. One person's entitlements in quotes is another person's absolute necessities in order to survive.

I think that was an attempt at humor on his part.

This may be off topic (if so, apologies) but here's a new-to-me angle on the current discussion about deficits and debt reduction by Matt Miller in the Washington Post. points that jumped out at me from Miller's column:*the inconsistency with which House Republicans are threatening to vote against raising the federal debt ceiling while at the same time voting almost unanimously to add $6 trillion to the federal debt in the coming decade (per Chairman Ryan's budget plan);*his assertion that "it must be noted that the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan wins the fiscal responsibility derby thus far; it reaches balance by 2021 largely through assorted tax hikes and defense cuts)." (Granted, as Miller also notes, the CPC plan is not the mainstream Democratic proposal.)

A couple other things I've just run across.First is a back and forth over on the Mirror of Justice by Rick Garnett on this very post. I think it is very enlightening. second thing, and I know it is a minor point, but Mr. Penalver states a couple times that Ryan "requires" his staff to read Atlas Shrugged. That is apparently NOT the case. Again, minor, but since its been repeated a couple times in a couple places, I thought it worth bringing to attention.

ff Landry (10:12 am) Thanks for posting this. I see Mr. Hanson makes the common mistake of focusing almost exclusively on federal income tax. As a result, the unaware reader might go away thinking that nearly half of all Americans don't pay taxes, or that the wealthiest 5% pay 60% of taxes. Of course neither is true.By focusing solely on federal income taxes, Mr. Hanson ignores the impact of state and local income taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes. When one includes all those with federal income tax to calculate total tax burdens, it turns out that the percentage of income paid in taxes is relatively flat across the entire income spectrum in the US today; and thus that the poor and middle-class bear a heavier tax burden (since we all have basic expenses for food, clothing shelter, and the other necessities of life), relatively speaking, than the fabulously wealthy and the merely affluent.Of course, one can still argue, as the House Republicans effectively have with their budget plan, that the best use of federal government money saved by cutting Medicaid and ending Medicare as we know it is to cut taxes even more for the wealthy and the affluent. It's just (in my view) best to be clear that is in fact what is being proposed.

I'm not sure he is ignoring that fact so much as responding to one particular argument: income taxes. I would imagine he's sophisticated enough to realize that people pay other taxes besides federal income taxes, but he is only responding to one argument: federal income taxes.

@Jeff Landry (11:49 am) Well, he may be. If so, I think he's responding to an argument few, if any, liberals, moderates or true deficit hawks are making. Most liberals, moderates and true deficit hawks that I'm aware of look at overall tax burden, not at federal income tax alone, when thinking about tax policy.The flip side to Hanson's argument (the wealthy and affluent bear too much of the federal income tax burden; the poorer half of Americans bear too little) is that, since total tax burden (as percentage of income) is relatively flat across the entire income spectrum, then the poor and middle-class bear too much of the burden of state and local income taxes, property taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, Social Security and Medicare taxes. That's accurate, but I fail to see how it advances Hanson's argument.

@Luke HillI just read this post by Ross Douthat. Its as good a summary of my view as any.

@Jeff Landry (4:19 pm) Thanks Jeff, I appreciate the candor (Douthat's and yours).Here's why I find "I suppose we'll find out" a somewhat disappointing conclusion from Douthat at this time:1 - he still claims "neither the president nor his party has showed any signs of being willing to match the Ryan budgets honesty about the scope of whats required". But:***Calling the Ryan budget honest when it's widely conceded (by Douthat and many conservative commentators) to be based on faulty numbers from the Heritage Foundation is---how to put this gently?---problematic. (The memory of W. Bush's faulty numbers used to pass the 2001 tax cuts and budget add to liberal and moderate skepticism about Ryan's intentions.)***The actions (not words) of the Democratic Party over the past 30 years demonstrate that it has consistently been willing to deal with the nation's fiscal problems: the 1983 Greenspan Commission Social Security reform, the 1986 Bradley-Gephardt tax code reform, the 1991 Bush-Mitchell budget deal, the 1993 Clinton budget, the mid-1990s Clinton-Gingrich budgets, the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The Democrats twice acted (at subsequent electoral cost) unilaterally, and several times participated in bipartisan solutions to problems. ***By contrast, the actions (not words) of the Republican Party over the past 30 years have demonstrated little concern about deficit spending: 80% of the Reagan and Bush Sr. deficits were initiated by/included in the presidents' budget plans; when Republicans held the balance of power in the 2000s they acted repeatedly (2001 & 2003 tax cuts, Medicare Part D, Iraq & Afghanistan wars) to turn record budget surpluses (inherited from Clinton) into record budget deficits. (Note: Rep. Ryan's been in the House since 1999, and he voted for all of Pres. Bush's major deficit-increasing measures, and voted against the (deficit-reducing) ACA.***If by "the scope of what's required" Douthat means balancing the budget, Obama's sketchy plan does so in roughly the same time frame as Ryan's sketchy plan, while the Congressional Progressive Caucus has a more substantial plan that, according to some reports, does a better job than either when it comes to deficit reduction. I apologize for going on in such length in response to Douthat's statement about "honesty", but statements like that---from conservatives who recognize at least some of the major flaws in Ryan's plan---add to liberal and moderate suspicions about conservative intentions on this issue.2 - It ignores the partisan record on health care reform: Republicans passed Medicare Part D without regard to its budgetary impact; Democrats passed the ACA in a version that reduces the deficit in both 10 and 20 year windows. In his criticism of Obama's Medicare proposals, Douthat glosses over the reforms included in last year's ACA, which passed despite unanimous Republican opposition. Douthat also ignores the longer history of conservative opposition to Medicare and Social Security, and that conservatives have made repeated attempts to end (not merely reform) both.3 - Douthat make no mention of Republican negotiating strategy during the Obama administration. Senate Majority Leader McConnell very skillfully united his caucus against any compromise on health care and energy legislation (as well as many smaller bills). In each case (Snowe on health care, Graham on energy) there was a Republican Senator who engaged in months of closed-door negotiations only to end up opposing any legislation. The results: What had been the mainstream market-based conservative alternative (exchanges with individual mandate) for health care reform a few years earlier received not a single Republican vote. What had been the mainstream market-based conservative alternative (cap and trade) for energy reform never even got to the Senate floor. (Oh yes, and partly as a result, Republicans retook the House and gained seats in the Senate. Excellent electoral strategy, questionable (at best) governing strategy.)Given that history, Democrats are (perhaps understandably) leery of what the "Gang of Six" will produce, and whether Republicans will support it should it come to a vote.4 - his reliance on peripheral arguments (e.g., "he imagine(s)" that the Gang of Six will produce a proposal that calls for revenue increases, he refers to Simpson-Bowles without noting Ryan refused to vote for it, he brings Social Security back into the picture when we all know i's not contributing to our current deficits, has only minor projected shortfalls starting 30 years from now, and the Greenspan benefit cuts are still being phased in), he criticizes Obama's position on Medicare without giving any credit for the ACA's deficit-reducing measures), while glossing over the heart of the objections to Ryan's plan: the numbers don't add up, and the spending cuts hit the poor (immediately) and middle-class (in a few years) while the tax cuts primarily benefit the rich and affluent, and it doesn't balance the budget (ostensibly its primary goal) for decades. (An aside: the record of the 2000s argues against Ryan's approach to deficit reduction and to economic growth, a fact neither Ryan nor Douthat reckons with.)Given all this, I find myself thinking of Paul Ryan as the Prodigal Son. He took his share of the family inheritance (the budget surpluses bequeathed to W. Bush by Clinton), and squandered it on wild living (tax cuts that disproportionately benefited the wealthy, growing income and wealth inequality, declining median wages) in far-off lands (2 badly-run wars, 1 (Iraq) unnecessary).After many years he realized the error of his ways and decided to return home to the true path of fiscal responsibility. While he was still a long ways off, his father rushed up to which point the Prodigal demanded his brother's share of the inheritance too. (In this twist on the parable--- great deal for the Prodigal, not so great for everyone else.)I, and I think many liberals and moderates, would feel more kindly disposed toward Ryan's (now the House Republicans') plan and more trusting of his intentions if he had presented it by:*acknowledging his own (in particular) and the Republican (in general) responsibility for rolling up huge deficits when in power over the past decade (and generation);*acknowledging the Democratic record (in particular the ACA and the 1993 budget) of fiscal responsibility over the past generation;*acknowledging that the record of bipartisan fiscal responsibility over the past generation shows the need for a combination of tax hikes, spending cuts and reforms to take action whenever there is (as now) a divided government;*basing his numbers on the work of a respected, nonpartisan team of analysts (as opposed to Heritage);*offering specific proposals for raising taxes and cutting tax expenditures in ways that would fall primarily on the wealthy and affluent---if Democrats will agree to spending cuts and program reforms as part of a larger deal;*proposing (this is a bonus point) that the debt ceiling immediately be raised by the amount necessary to accommodate his plan as a sign of how serious today's Republican party is about protecting the nation's fiscal health.Having said all that, I hope Douthat's most optimistic hopes about the congressional Republicans' willingness to cut a deal come true. I think it would be better for the nation if they do.

@Luke Hill - I offered Douthat's opinion as a kind of "wrapping" up my argument. I havent' digested your rather long response, but I can say that I've come away with the conclusion that you're confirming what I like about Douthat's view: we're looking at the same reality through different lens. But honestly I cannot take seriously an opinion that simply lays ALL the blame on the GOP or Ryan personally (a man who by all accounts is a serious wonk, something I'll take any day ove some hack politcian), or accuses them of "not being serious" about the deficit, or using the deficit as a means of attacking the poor. I fear comments like these undo a lot of goodwill built up in this conversation, but I'm also tired of the dogged partisanship I've encountered here (not primarily from you), so my patience for such simplistic black/white positions is worn down. I still say that Ryan, although impefectly, as put forward the most detailed plan yet, and taken on significant political risk in doing so. I have trid to acknowledge certain problems with Ryan's plan. I have not seen such concessions from any liberals writing on this issue about their OWN plans. The President and his (your?) party have not come close to providing the American people with a forthwright plan for addressing these issues except raising taxes on the "rich" and insituting a board of experts to cut "waste, fraud, and abuse". I think the President has failed to lead on this, as with so many other, issues. I see a laundry list of things you ask of Ryan; I would take it with more credibility if you offered up some of your own party's failings. Again, I think I'm just worn down by the Democrats Good/GOP bad; Obama good/Ryan bad dichotomy that has governed this "discussion". Perhaps after a break for the Triduum I can respond with more substance.

@Jeff Landry (11:17 pm) I fear I've said too much. A blessed Triduum to you and yours!

Thanks for the history lesson, Luke. Without even mentioning the New Deal, your history shows who it is that the GOP has historically protected -- the very affluent and rich. Such protection wouldn't be so bad, except the cost for it has been the quality of life for middle and lower income citizens.And thank you, Jeff, for some serious dialogue.Happy Easter to all :-)

Ann, if I changed your sentence above to read:"Without even mentioning Roe v. Wade, your history shows that the Democrats have historically failed to protect innocent unborn human life."Wouldn't you object to my making an unfair generalization that frustrated dialogue and understanding? Methinks you would. May I suggest that your sentence above is an equally unfair generalization?"Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand".

Jeff --Generalizations about the past are quite different from generalizations about the present and prophecies about the future, and that's true of the generalizations about both Democrats and Republicans. So, no, I wouldn't object to your change in my sentence. I happen to think it's true and for the same reason that my original sentence is true.The past is settled (though our interpretations of it might not be), so it is possible to make confident generalizations about the past when the evidence is obvious and apparently complete and the historians are in compos mentis. Judgements about what is likely to be the case at present and in the future are another matter. The present and future are not settled, so it is impossible to generalize accurately, though some more or less probable statements can be made.Do consider the old saying -- those who are unwilling to learn from history are bound to repeat it.