The race to define Paul Ryan is on. Democrats greeted his selection with the predictable claim that he was an extremist who wanted to end "Medicare as we know it." That characterization hit a wall Monday morning when Morgen Richmond, a conservative blogger, released a video of Erskine Bowles praising Ryan and his budget as "sensible, straight-forward, honest, serious." Wednesday, Politico published a piece by Steven Sloan and John Bresnahan attempting to push back on the Bowles clip, but the claims are undercut by a another Bowles clip from the same speech which lays blame for the failure of the deficit commission on President Obama's lackluster effort to support it, not on Paul Ryan.
Within hours of its being released, the clip of Bowles praising Ryan made the rounds of blogs and had begun receiving attention, both positive and negative, on Twitter. By Tuesday morning, Bill Kristol at the Weekly Standard was recommending the Romney camp make it into a campaign ad. By Tuesday evening the clip appeared as part of Bill O'Reilly's Talking Points Memo to make the point that not every Democrat sees Ryan as an extremist.
To his credit, Bowles stuck to his guns in an interview with the Daily Caller published Wednesday, saying: "I think he’s smart. I think he’s intellectually curious. I think he is
honest, straightforward and sincere. And I think he does have a serious
budget out there--it doesn’t mean I agree with it by any stretch of the
imagination. But I’m not going to act like I don’t like him or that I
don’t have some real respect for him."
Needless to say, the Obama effort to define Ryan wasn't going well. The inevitable Democratic pushback to the Bowles clip appeared as the top item at Politico Wednesday morning. The new tack is a somewhat scaled back version of the previous one. Ryan may not be an extremist in this version, but he is an inflexible "partisan." To ensure the point is clear, we are told this twice in the first five sentences of the piece, e.g. "Some Democrats now maintain that the higher the stakes--and the closer
Simpson-Bowles got to actually forging a bipartisan solution --the less
flexible and more partisan Ryan became."
If you're wondering where all of this is coming from, you finally find out several paragraphs later: "'There is not a flexibility in Paul Ryan,' said Rep. Jan Schakowsky
(D-Ill.), who served on the commission with Ryan." Schakowsky is an extreme far-left partisan herself, and on page two of the story we get this bit of framing, "To be fair, the liberals on the commission — including Schakowsky — were
rigid in their beliefs as well and were unwilling to target
entitlements and big cuts to social spending." But the thrust clearly isn't on Schakowsky's well-known extremism but on Ryan's alleged partisanship. It's not until the tail end of the piece that Politico finally reveals what lies behind this entire effort:
In a Sept. 2011 speech, Bowles gave Ryan high marks for intellectual
ability and integrity. “This guy is amazing,” said Bowles, a former
White House chief of staff. “I always thought I was good at arithmetic.
This guy can run circles around me. He is honest, he is straightforward,
he is sincere.”
Politico doesn't identify it as such, but that quote comes from the video that has been circulating on blogs since Monday, the one that created problem for Democrats. Now notice the very next paragraph: