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Budget cuts and Burgundy: Paul Ryan’s rank hypocrisy

37 comments

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.

  1. James McCann says:

    Your post illustrates the vast divide between the two parties. One side differentiates between private and government funds, and the other sees no difference.

  2. I’m not sure what the “severe restrictions” are. The two budgets that are being debated remain Obama’s, which grows federal spending from about $3.8 trillion this year to $5.7 trillion in 2021, and Paul Ryan’s, which grows federal spending from about $3.8 trillion this year to $4.7 trillion in 2021. Neither party has any real interest in cutting the scope and size of government.

    Also worth noting, while Bistro Bis qualifies as expensive just about everywhere in the country, it’s actually affordable in the realm of “Nice Restaurants in DC.”

    Disgustingly, D.C. suburbs make up four of the five wealthiest counties in the country. Also, DC has a higher cost of living than San Francisco. The explanation for all this wealth is pretty simple — DC only has one notable industry.

  3. This episode is little example of the ever-widening divide between ‘normal’ people/citizens/consumers and the ‘elite’ who rule them; they live on two different planets. It’ll all end in tears eventually, don’t you think?

  4. Risk adversity, Class envy and personal low self esteem are also “crassley conspicuous”, yes?

    Mr. Ryan’s only error, of course, was that it was not a bottle of Screaming Eagle. Maybe next time?

  5. Fabio, you might be right. We had one Civil War; why not another? However, we cannot give up hope.

  6. Steve, By using your *wine* blog as a platform for your political views, you may very well have jumped the shark….

  7. Dear SUAMW, I never did know what “jump the shark” means. Anyhow, I don’t do politics here very often, so I hope you won’t abandon me!

  8. I think I’m missing the point.
    Are you saying the United States taxpayer’s paid for his meal and wine?
    If not, who gives a shit?
    American’s need to focus on real issues, not these stupid distractions about $300 haircuts and expensive campaign wardrobes.

  9. Here is the basic flaw in the argument. If I, a lower middle class so-and-so who makes just about $700/wk go out to a fancy restaurant to meet my best friend, fresh from his high executive job in Paris, FR, and he wants to buy me dinner and an expensive bottle of wine… what would you have me do?
    If his motivations were to talk to me, have a great time, relax.. there is a problem with this?
    Here is where there are two problems. 1)If Paul Ryan, with his hefty congressman’s income bought those two bottles to share with his buddies, that is a comment about the too-high salaries these politicians make. Not a corruption or hypocritical issue. 2)If these buddies were having this dinner and buying this wine with the intent of specifically getting in return polical favors. As we have seen, these gentlemen are all like minded… no change of policy there. If one can prove a correlation between this dinner and policy, then you’d have an argument.

    And really? Who hasn’t “taken care” of their friends before? I have said many times “hey, price isn’t an issue.” or “let me get this…” common. We confusing policy and personal right.

  10. Here is the basic flaw in the argument. If I, a lower middle class so-and-so who makes just about $700/wk go out to a fancy restaurant to meet my best friend, fresh from his high paying job, and he wants to buy me dinner and an expensive bottle of wine… what would you have me do?
    If his motivations were to talk to me, have a great time, relax.. there is a problem with this?
    Here is where there could be two problems. 1)If Paul Ryan, with his hefty congressman’s income bought those two bottles to share with his buddies. That would be a comment about the too-high salaries these politicians make. Not a corruption or hypocritical issue. 2)If these buddies were having this dinner and buying this wine with the intent of specifically getting in return polical favors. However, as we have seen these gentlemen are all like minded… no change of policy there. If one can prove a correlation between this dinner and policy, then you’d have an argument.

    And really? Who hasn’t “taken care” of their friends before? I have said many times “hey, price isn’t an issue.” or “let me get this…” common. We confusing policy and personal right.

    Thomas Jefferson was a staunch supporter of limited government and taxation, yet he was constantly broke and spent so much of his and other people’s money on over-priced french wines… And we’re flippin’ out over Paul Ryan’s dinner??

  11. Patrick, 1) Ryan’s rich hedge fund friend paid for the wines. 2) Ryan sits on the House Budget Committee and is its chairman. If you’ve wondered why these hedge fund billionaires get away with murder while the middle class is torpedoed, it’s because powerful insiders such as Ryan let their wealthy friends buy them “favors” like $350 bottles of wine!

  12. Wine Harlots, this is a real issue. It’s who has Ryan’s ear–us, the little guys, or the rich and powerful? It’s over dinners like these that deals get done, often with a wink and a nod.

  13. Agreed.
    But putting the focus on the $350 bottles of wine (which due to due to the restaurant-rape mark-up the wine would cost about $100 retail) instead of your valid concerns about who our politicians are in bed with, or how policy is made. By focusing on the price of the bottle, it implies that if he was drinking a $80 resturant bottle (with a retail of approximately $25-30) that would be ok.

  14. sigerson says:

    Good Grief!
    1) $350 doesn’t buy what it used to.
    2) The above is true largely because the rich don’t give a TCA-infused cork for the rest of us. This kind of ” controversy” is one of the many circuses devised to distract us from the fact that both parties are wings of the same party: the money party.
    3) Having said all that, the POTUS has done something really interesting by going all down with over 4 trillion of reductions and tax hikes. It isn’t enough but it’s a good start. Ryan’s market-based healthcare approach is the best idea of the century: the 19th century. I don’t think he’s a bad guy, but he’s had too much Echezeaux if he doesn’t realize that health care is both too expensive and too important to be left to the sharks in the marketplace.
    4) The guy had only one glass of that? I’ll bet Obama would at least have had 2, then worked it off on the court.
    5)Fonzie jumped a shark on waterskis in the last sad days of Happy Days. The crack suggests an irretrievable decline, and is unmerited here.
    6)So was the wine good, for heaven’s sake? And what was Feinberg drinking?

  15. Steve,

    I am of mixed feelings about this…while I certainly see the hypocrisy that you point out and something about it seems not right to me…I wonder if separating work and pleasure isn’t something we all do. Don’t you give high ratings to wines, even if you know the owners of the winery are of differing political viewpoints and even support Republican candidates? If so, aren’t you involved in putting money into the coffers of those you disagree with, albeit remotely?

    Honestly, the question I wonder about is why weren’t they drinking American wine (no matter the price). The White House adopted a policy, starting under Jimmy Carter, that only American wines would be served at State Dinners, etc. Makes sense to me, especially at official functions. I would think that any Representative or Senator, when out on business (meeting with economic advisors, etc) would have a similar code. Doesn’t that seem sensible?

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  16. Steve,

    You write too good a blog to trash it up with selective outrage. Pols on both sides of the aisle practice “do as I say, not as I do.” I’m surprised you took the bait.

  17. Steve:

    You should have read the full story before posting.

    Ryan was at a meeting with two economists, one a professor and one a hedge fund manager. The discussion focused on monetary policy and QE2, the Federal Reserve’s second round of quantitative easing, i.e. efforts to bolster the economy through the purchase of $600 billion in long-term U.S. Treasury bonds.

    If the men were lobbyists, or worked for a firm or company that employs lobbyists, then paying for such expensive wine would be a violation of Congressional ethics rules barring members from accepting anything of value from lobbyists.

    The hedge fund manager ordered the wine. Ryan drank one glass. When Feinberg had her hissy fit he learned how much the wine cost and paid for one of the bottles out of an abundance of caution. His credit card was charged $472, which included the wine, his dinner, and a $80 tip.

    This is a guy who sleeps on a cot in his office to save money. Give the guy a break.

  18. Assuming a most cynical assumption that some “influencing” was being peddled then the price of the wine really doesn’t matter because A). Ryan couldn’t likely tell the difference between a $350 wine vs. a $35 wine and B). The very fact they were having an “intimate dinner among friends” suggests he had already been influenced!
    Of course, if could have just been they were old college buddies and one of them was a hard-wroking financial wiz that ended up doing very well for himself working within the rules of the current market system. Hell, he may even contribute financially to multiple social causes. But I guess it always better to assume the worse about our rich & politicians, one of the reasons we have the polarizing political gridlock so prevalent today.

  19. James McCann says:

    Steve,

    Don’t worry, of the millions that hedge fund managers and other investment types gave to Congressmen and women in 2010, 64% of it went to Democrats.

    Union groups, AARP, NRA, etc… also give tens of millions and are made up of ordinary citizens. I doubt you would minimize the political clout of these groups.

  20. James, I’d be interested to see a citation for your figures. According to OpenSecrets, hedge funds gave more to Republicans in 2010 than to Democrats. See: http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus.php?ind=f2700

    I also refer you to “How Wall St. execs bankrolled GOP victory” by Peter Stone of the Center for Public Integrity and Michael Isikoff of NBC News. Key excerpt:

    A small network of hedge fund executives pumped at least $10 million into Republican campaign committees and allied groups before November’s elections, helping bankroll GOP victories that this week will change the balance of power in Washington, according to a review of campaign records and interviews with industry insiders by the Center for Public Integrity and NBC News.
    Bitterly opposed to President Barack Obama’s economic and regulatory policies — including proposals to increase taxes on some of their profits — top Wall Street hedge fund moguls were unusually energized during last year’s election. They held multiple fundraisers and coordinated strategy to direct what appear to be unprecedented sums into the coffers of GOP and allied political committees, according to industry and GOP fundraising sources.
    Many substantial donations from the hedge fund executives escaped public notice either because they were made late in the campaign (and therefore weren’t reported until after the election) or were funneled through third-party groups, obscure “joint fundraising committees” and newly created political nonprofits that are not required to disclose donors….
    Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40913123/ns/politics/

  21. “…us, the little guys” Your rant seems rather sanctimonious and amusingly ironic from a guy who has elected to make his living primarily from reviewing wines like the one you are ranting about which are outside the budgets of most of the little guys; and you regularly happily accept the hospitality of your “rich friends” in the course of doing your “job. Keep up the righteous indignation though if it makes you feel morally superior.

  22. I really think that this is a bogus complaint. He wants to drink expensive wine, that’s his priviledge, and its his money. What was the professor drinking? I am not rich by any measure, yet from time to time we really splurge on an exquisite bottle. Just because he is dining with friends, who by the way purchased the bottle, he should be left alone.

  23. Marc Emelianenko says:

    Note to Feinberg: I’d give almost anything if you’d pull that butinski stunt at my table. You’d get an unforgettable lesson. I’m sure you calculated that Mr. Ryan would be forced to suffer a fool like you. If he’d done what your parents obviously never did, then he’d be political toast. But then he’s too smart to rise to the bait of such a scraggly worm like you. Alas, there went the chance for your 15 minutes of fame. So now you’re reduced to writing that wretched piece of dreck in the NJ Star-Ledger. Now it’s back to spouting your drivel in the anti-capitalist echo-chambers that pass for institutions of higher learning.

  24. So let me get this straight…
    Congressman Mike Thompson takes 1.2 MILLION DOLLARS in campaign contributions from the alcoholic beverage industry, yet he’s a good guy.
    Congressman Paul Ryan has a glass from a $350 dollar bottle (The cost of which was shared amongst friends)and he’s the Devil incarnate?

  25. Politics and the internet, always a good combination! As if wine wasn’t enough of a hot button issue . . . .

    At any rate, I see it as more symbolic than outrageous. An ostensibly popularly elected official but in fact true member of a ruling oligarchy drinking a wine of the bourgeoisie whose “class” is codified into law via its Cru designation. As much as I like old world wine (and Pinot) stylistically, social and economic mobility are not their strong suits. Rather fitting then that the entrenched oligarchy takes the entrenched vinous upper castes as its drink of choice.

    Also a bit of fitting that Burgundy preaches the same sort of false populism our politicians practice. Burgundy may not be mass produced by corporations pushing luxury goods, but it is every bit as elitist in its sentiment. Your local rep may know how to do a good photo op, but he ain’t nothing like you or me.

    That said, Pinot effin’ Noir is a great grape. Not $350 great, but at least Ryan wasn’t buying some Aussie export crap.

  26. James McCann says:

    Pete,

    You apparently didn’t bother to look at your own link – for the last two election cycles, here is the breakdown:

    Your link shows the Democrats getting 67% of hedge fund money in 2008, and 48% in 2010 (when they supposedly bankrolled the GOP?).

    My numbers were for the total securities industry, and specifically their congressional donations. The link follows, and my numbers are correct.

    http://www.opensecrets.org/industries/mems.php

    Democratic members of congress take much more money from “big business” (and obviously from unions) – I know it doesn’t fit your storyline, but it doesn’t make it any less true.

  27. He got caught not walking the walk. If it was no big deal, he should not have lied about it. I hope it does illustrate this point to the people in government “people are watching what you do”.

  28. Where is the outrage over what the restaurant charged for a bottle of wine that they did NOTHING to in order to enhance its value? Thats one point.

    I for one see no hypocricy in that particular instance. It is classic apples and ornages to me. Point 2.

    Suggestion:
    Personally I would much prefer that any wine blog stick to wine, perhaps an occasional foray into the beer and spririts as related overall to adult beverage publications of any type.

    There are plenty of sources for social and politcal topics and not as many good ones for wine and such.

    I do really love the restaurant business and I also deplore that way they price alcoholic beverages. What most of them do is stupid and mean. Not there is a good topic!!!!

  29. John Roberts says:

    I’m not sure your post is immune from political prejudice. I think most in Washington are over-paid and live a life of over-indulgence. Let’s not kid ourselves, Republicans aren’t the only ones ordering expensive wines, driving expensive cars, and hanging out at the local country club. This is really a cultural issue. If the man is using his own money, we object to his crassness not because he is a thief, but because of his callousness. Because he can comfortably enjoy the luxuries of life with impunity while his actions elsewhere cause others to sacrifice of necessity. This I cannot disagree with. Obama drinking Monte Bello and Pol Roger, I don’t see much of a difference.

  30. John:

    There is a difference. WE paid for Obama’s Pol Roger.

  31. Steve,
    This wine retails for $180 in D.C.
    $350 is the restaurant price.
    http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/jayer-gilles+ech%E9zeaux+grand+cru/2004/usa

  32. James, I wrote, “Hedge funds gave more to Republicans in 2010 than to Democrats.” The link I provided precisely supports that assertion. Many thanks for the confirmation, and for the additional info!

  33. Jeez, it seems everyone is missing the point here. If Republicans are willing to pay 2X retail for the worst red Burgundy vintage of the past 15-20 years, well I can’t think of a better way to redistribute a tiny portion of their wealth. I’ll certainly sell them mine for those prices. I think it should be made clear that buying 04 red Burgs really pisses off Democrats. Yep if Republicans really want to infuriate the liberal elites, they need to start buying up 04s as fast as they can, for the highest prices possible. Higher bids demonstrate greater Republican defiance!

  34. James McCann says:

    Pete,

    Congratulations, you’ve learned well from the numerous talking heads that finding one stat (52% to 48%) allows you to ignore all the rest of the pertinent information in order to shape a story to fit your beliefs.

    And to confirm, the entire basis of your “rebuttal” (from my assertion that Dems get much more money from the finance industry)was incorrect.

  35. While I find the blurring of journalism and entertainment very irritating (and it is good to see Murdock getting his comeuppance), the very nature of a blog makes it an appropriate for a writer to take the reader on a little detour. While I have this one bookmarked in my Wine file, not my Politics file, I enjoyed this departure from a wine item into some political commentary. So as far as I am concerned, continue to do it once it all while, Steve.

  36. Bill Dyer, thanks. I know it pisses some people off. If you’re interested in my politics, you’ll find them regularly on my Facebook page.

  37. Carlos Toledo says:

    Steve, hypocrisy should be America’s hallmark. Every country has very strong traits and America has hypocrisy up to its ears.

    Maybe as natives you don’t perceive it on a daily basis, but hypocrisy is the first thing foreigners smell, feel and touch whenever in touch with Americans.

    My home country has awful characteristics too, you’re not alone in the world.

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