The Rabid two Minute Chait

Jon Chait has a great time with Paul Ryan and someone named McCay Coppins who asserted (without feeling any need to present evidence) that Chait is a “rabid” critique of Paul Ryan. Do click the link and read the whole post. You won’t regret it.

(Don’t you hate the way the internet makes it possible for us to read only things which confirm our prejudices ? No I don’t either. That is why I have such an unhealthy addiction to the internet).

Some excerpts

Coppins presents criticism of Ryan as “rabid,”a “caricature,” and “personal,” and Ryan himself as wounded, misunderstood innocent:

When I mention one of his most rabid critics in the commentariat, the liberal New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait,

then Chait rabidly reads a budget resolution (if you ever see a dog reading a budget resolution, turn around and walk away).

The underlying problem here is a massive gulf between Ryan’s rhetoric and his policy agenda. Ryan’s famous budget consists primarily of extremely deep cuts to programs benefiting low-income Americans.


How to resolve this tension? One way is to assert that the best way to help poor people is to cut their subsidies. Ryan does indeed make this case, and Coppins endorses it:

If [Ryan’s] rhetoric lacks poetry, his arguments against the current state-centric approach to aiding the poor is compelling. Since Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” the U.S. government has spent an estimated $13 trillion on federal programs that have resulted, 50 years later, in the highest deep poverty rate on record.

This statistic is one of the very few fact-based policy assertions in Coppins’s story. It is wildly misleading. Ryan is using a measure of poverty that excludes a lot of the subsidies government gives to the poor.


Ryan also wants to escape responsibility for the draconian consequences of his proposals. “I can’t speak for everybody and put my stuff in their budget,” he tells Coppins. “My work on poverty is a separate thing.” Their budget? The great vision statement for which Ryan has been widely hailed is now somebody else’s?


There’s not much else to argue with in Coppins’s account, which relies on visual description to press his case for Ryan’s good faith.

my comment:

As a result of your lashing out with this rabid personal caricature, I have decided to never again pay any attention to anything this McKay Coppins person writes or says. As you foam at the mouth and fear water, don’t feel too proud. I am only vaguely aware of who McKay Coppins might be, and never paid him or her any attention (google images just convinced me that he is a man and, yes, I honestly didn’t know).

My usual bit about deep poverty after the jump.

On the other hand, you let Ryan play heads he wins tails you loose. When news on the poverty front was good (late 90s) Ryanoids (and Clintonians and, I trust, one Jon Chait) said that this showed that welfare reform was a big success. Now that the news is not so good, this shows that the great society programs were failures. It can’t be that good news and bad news are both evidence “that the best way to help poor people is to cut their subsidies.”

You are very casual about the distinction between poverty and deep poverty (cash income less than half the poverty line). This is an interesting measure, because AFDC and TANF benefits were and are less than the poverty line. The programs were designed to prevent deep poverty without allowing the poor to be non-poor without working. Other changes in culture and stuff (from the increasing fraction of births out of wedlock to the plummeting rate of teen age pregnancy and the plummeting crime rate) affect poverty and deep poverty which tend to move together except after welfare reform.

It is not a coincidence that the deep poverty rate is record setting while the poverty rate isn’t after a recession during which the welfare roles didn’t grow. They couldn’t, because the welfare reform bill made the Federal contribution rigid and state budgets were in desperate shape (as always during recessions).

You are right that the headline poverty and deep poverty rates treat SNAP (formerly know as food stamps) as worthless (and also the EITC and Medicaid). Also the deep poverty rate was only calculated from 1975 on (I have no idea why).

But it just makes no sense for conservatives to define the present as the product of Johnson when they claim it is bad, and of Reagan and Gingrich when they claim it is good. Ryan’s claims are so absurd that you can beat him at heads he wins tails you lose, because he is so blinded by ideology that he can’t even see if the coin came up heads or tails, and because he is tempted into lazy easily refuted lies by fawning reporters. But it is not a good idea to establish the principle that Conservatives can blame Johnson for everything 46 years after the inauguration of Richard Nixon.