Time Paints Paul Ryan as Deficit-Slashing Superhero

The fact that Time magazine named “The Protester” its Person of the Year was maybe a little surprising. Totally unsurprising, though, was the choice of a runners-up: Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, a hero to many in the corporate media for his bold calls to slash government spending on the poor.

It’s hard to know where to start with reporter David Von Drehle’s tribute. But let’s try here:

Through a combination of hard work, good timing and possibly suicidal guts, the Wisconsin Republican managed to harness his party to a dramatic plan for dealing with America’s rapidly rising public debt.

Dealing with the rising debt. Remember that idea.

He goes on:

The supply-sider from Janesville, Wis., tapped into a deep well of anxiety over trillion-dollar deficits at home and the threat of debt-fueled calamity in Europe. Did he deliver a perfect plan? Not even he claims that. But Ryan, 41, offered a budget that began to convey the scale of change necessary to defuse the American debt bomb: Sweeping tax reform. Unprecedented spending freezes. Most important, a thorough reinvention of federal entitlements.

Ryan’s plan isn’t perfect? And he admitted this? What a guy! Ryan’s heroic stance, readers learn, caused fury in both parties. Republicans were forced to make difficult choices, while “Democrats howled at the sacrilege and Ryan’s refusal to raise income tax rates on the wealthy.”

Ryan’s is a “tough budget” that “brought President Obama down from his cloud of happy talk about windmills and high-speed trains to acknowledge that America has a plateful of peas to choke down after its binge at the dessert bar.” That’s right–massive cuts in social spending are good for you, just like eating your veggies.

The crux of the whole piece comes down to this:

Ryan’s dramatic proposal would not have gained any traction if it did not address a widely acknowledged problem: Over the next two generations, the U.S. government is on track to spend many tens of trillions of dollars more than it plans to raise. Unless changes are made, that will force so much borrowing that interest payments alone will sink the federal budget.

Thankfully, Time tells us, Paul Ryan has “the courage to look the future in the eye. It is a seer’s work to glimpse around the corner and sound an alarm.”

The piece closes by noting that this brave bold plan “wouldn’t balance the federal budget until 2040. The prophet of 2011 will be 70 years old.”

Wait a second. I thought this was a bold deficit-reducing roadmap to deal with the debt?

The secret to the Ryan plan–the thing media don’t talk about much–is that it doesn’t do the thing they say they like about it– namely, reduce the deficit. As Paul Krugman explained in the New York Times, the projected deficit in 2020 under the Ryan plan would be

about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible–which you shouldn’t–the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.

Or as James Horney of the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities wrote of Ryan (4/8/11):

Despite proposing $4.3 trillion in what would be the most severe and wrenching budget cuts in U.S. history–two-thirds of which would come from programs for people of low or moderate incomes–the plan barely reduces deficits at all over the next decade. That’s because his budget cuts are offset by $4.2 trillion in tax cuts that would go disproportionately to those at the top. In essence, at least for the next decade, this plan is far less a blueprint for addressing deficits and far more a proposal to redistribute large amounts of resources from those at the bottom to those at the top.

Dean Baker writes that “Representative Ryan’s program would imply a massive upward redistribution to the one percent.” Maybe that explains why he’s a Time runner-up. If “The Protester” is the Person of the Year, journalistic “balance” requires saying nice things about the One Percent.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.