Budget cuts and Burgundy: Paul Ryan’s rank hypocrisy
I can’t agree with Slate’s Mike Steinberger that Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s decision to consume a couple bottles of Burgundy at $350 each was a “so what…asinine controversy.”
Ryan has come under attack from the left for his luxury splurge at a Washington D.C. restaurant, even as he’s urging the Congress to pass severe new restrictions on Medicare, Medicaid and other services for the poor and middle class.
Steinberger would let the guy off with a gentle chide, but I think Ryan’s indulgence speaks to a much deeper and more disturbing trend on his part, and the part of his wing of the Republican Party: the “I’m doing just fine, thank you, and if you’re not, it’s not my problem” mentality. Never mind the overt hypocrisy, his crassly conspicuous consumption testifies to a temperament that, in my judgment, discredits anything he has to say about fiscal discipline.
Ryan, confronted with the fact that the media was onto him, apparently claimed “he’d had no idea what the vintage cost…”. This sounds like the typical reaction of a politician who, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, tries to weasel his way out with a lame excuse. No idea? Really? Where did he think he was, the International House of Pancakes? No, he was at Bistro Bis, an expensive French restaurant where the entrées are in the mid- to high $20s, and the wine Ryan enjoyed for $350, the Jayer-Gilles Grand Cru 2004 Echezeaux, is the most expensive bottle on the wine list. It defies logic that the Congressman didn’t know he was drinking wine whose value exceeded the weekly income of a two-worker family on minimum wage.
I have to agree with the woman who alerted the media to Ryan’s escapade, a business professor at Rutgers named Susan Feinberg, that “Calling these folks [Ryan and his friends] out for drinking $700 worth of wine while negotiating spending cuts that saddle others with all the burdens of ‘austerity’ is what really upsets the natural order of things.” We’re used by now to politicians who defend “traditional marriage” while having affairs with other women and hanging out in airport stalls trolling for other men. Now it would appear we’re going to have to get used to politicians demanding draconian budget cuts that will hurt the elderly, children, veterans, the disabled and the poor, even while their rich friends ply them with expensive swag (in return for what kind of favors, we’ll never learn). It’s a sad turn of events, and that’s why Steinberger is wrong to dismiss it so cavalierly. “[Ryan] was entitled to have a private dinner with some friends and not be harassed about the choice of wines,” he writes. Yes, he was, but the public is entitled to know how their preachers of fiscal austerity behave when they think nobody’s looking.