Jon Lovett knows how politics actually works. Here’s how he describes the GOP brain:
There’s a kinship among staffers who have worked on Capitol Hill and in national politics that transcends party. This isn’t the cynical bipartisanship of the “No Labels” set, which denies the world and dupes its donors and acts upset when anyone notices. And it’s distinct from the conventional wisdom clubbiness of pundits and journalists and politicians. It’s why, despite myself, I like AshLee Strong and Brendan Buck, who work for Paul Ryan. It’s why I believe Ryan’s supporters are sincere when they point to articles like this one, which speak to Ryan’s decency and conservatism and integrity. I try to keep in mind what someone I despise said recently: “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.”
I also believe Paul Ryan is a fraud. He was a fraud when he claimed this most recent round of tax cuts would pay for themselves. He was a fraud long before Trump upended our politics, when the math of every budget and proposal Ryan delivered didn’t add up. He was a fraud when he campaigned against deficits amid national crisis only to forget his concerns when the party of the president changed. His great skill has never been policy but rather understanding how the game is played. And he really is good at that.
What I assumed was that Paul Ryan had internalized, consciously or not, a mostly unspoken axiom of conservative politics: given the bias in the media, given the inherent challenge of taking away a government benefit once bestowed, given the lack of imagination and common sense of the cosmopolitan elite, achieving limited government requires hand waving and misdirection. That’s how an admirer can tell us Ryan “believes that the truth matters” even though Ryan is a prolific liar.
Lovett describes here how Paul Ryan could be a human being trying to do good. And I think that’s how most Republicans work. They are trying to do good. They’re just totally wrong about what that is.
Politicians are politicians, Congress is going to fight, business is going to try to influence, but ultimately votes are votes and politicians want to get re-elected. The same collection of lawyers, successful salesmen, doctors, and busybodies were in Congress during the New Deal. The better results back then were not down to better people in office. If the results of politics are consistently bad, it’s because we’re having the wrong argument.
The wrong argument is what happens when you treat Ayn Rand ideology as a principled position in a grand debate about the proper size and scope of the Federal Government. Ideology should be the background belief about our national narrative that we all share. Politics can’t be a grand debate about our deepest convictions because that necessarily entails sending true believers like Paul Ryan to Congress. True believers can’t negotiate a win-win for everyone because no such win-win exists in their worldview. The Huguenots and Catholics are never going to pass a law declaring the one true faith. It’s necessarily a fight to the death.
Politics in a democracy should be a fight about what problems need solving and how we’re going to do it. It’s not that the ideologues want to do evil. It’s that ideologues have no business doing politics.