WASHINGTON -- The new era of Democratic bipartisanship, like cut flowers in a vase, wilted in less than a week.
During his question time at the House Republican retreat, President Obama elevated Congressman and budget expert Paul Ryan as a "sincere guy" whose budget blueprint -- which, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), eventually achieves a balanced budget -- has "some ideas in there that I would agree with." Days later, Democratic legislators held a conference call to lambaste Ryan's plan as a vicious, voucherizing, privatizing assault on Social Security, Medicare and every non-millionaire American. Progressive advocacy groups and liberal bloggers joined the jeering in practiced harmony.
The attack "came out of the Democratic National Committee, and that is the White House," Ryan told me, sounding both disappointed and unsurprised. On the deficit, Obama's outreach to Republicans has been a ploy, which is to say, a deception. Once again, a president so impressed by his own idealism has become the nation's main manufacturer of public cynicism.
To Ryan, the motivations of Democratic leaders are transparent. "They had an ugly week of budget news. They are precipitating a debt crisis, with deficits that get up to 85 percent of GDP and never get to a sustainable level. They are flirting with economic disaster." So they are attempting some "misdirection" -- calling attention to Ryan's two-year-old budget road map, which proposes difficult entitlement reforms. When all else fails, change the subject to Republican heartlessness.
From a political perspective, Democratic leaders are right to single out Ryan for unkind attention. He is among their greatest, long-term threats. He possesses the appeal of a young Jack Kemp (for whom both Ryan and I once worked). Like Kemp, Ryan is aggressively likable, crackling with ideas and shockingly sincere.
But unlike Kemp -- who didn't give a rip for deficits, being focused exclusively on economic growth -- Ryan is the cheerful prophet of deficit doom. "For the first generation of supply-siders," he explains, "the fiscal balance sheet was not as bad. The second generation of supply-siders needs to be just as concerned about debt and deficits. They are the greatest threats to economic growth today."