The Corner

Even with a Research Assistant

Jonathan Chait can’t find a quote that illustrates the point he wants to make. He has 11 quotes, but not one is on point. So, for example, he has James Capretta saying that Paul Ryan’s ideas are “far safer politically” than they used to be. But as I pointed out in the very post to which Chait is responding, that doesn’t mean Republican officialdom thought that Medicare reform would be popular with the public and is now shocked to find out it isn’t. The funny thing is, I think Chait and I agree about a lot of the political implications of this fight — just not about why Republicans have been doing what they’ve been doing.

Update: The research assistant, James Downie, is getting warmer, but I still stand by my point. First, because politicians saying that “the people” are with him is not evidence about what motivated them to undertake an initiative–does this really need to be spelled out? Second, because even valid examples would not establish the truth of his generalization or the untruth of mine. Similarly, my producing a bunch of quotes from Republicans saying their position was “brave” wouldn’t invalidate the Chait-Downie claim.

Update 2: And yes, I know these multiple updates are making an already self-indulgent thread even more so. It occurs to me that I’m approaching this too antagonistically (as are Chait and Downie!). The “decision” to take up Medicare reform was of course a series of decisions by multiple people. I’ve been focusing on, essentially, Ryan, the House leadership, and the intellectuals egging them on, and I’m quite confident in my characterization of what they were thinking–confident, that is, that they knew that opening themselves up to the charge of “cutting benefits for our seniors” would cause serious political problems. But the C&D characterization probably applies to a lot of backbenchers; I have the sense that a lot of them really have been surprised by how many people intensely oppose the Republican Medicare reform (or what they think that reform is).

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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