I was busy on Friday sipping the finest Spotted Cow beer at my little sister's wedding in Madison, Wisconsin, so I'm a little late getting to the bombshell story that Talking Points Memo dropped on Paul Ryan as last week came to a close.
To recap TPM's scoop: One night last week Paul Ryan met with two economists, a professor and a hedge fund manager, at the Capitol Hill restaurant Bistro Bis to talk monetary policy. A Rutgers University professor named Susan Feinberg was sitting at a nearby table and noticed Ryan's table had ordered two bottles of $350 wine. The rather loutish professor then decided to berate the congressman in the restaurant.
"After ending their meal and paying the check, Feinberg decided to give Ryan a piece of her mind," TPM's Susan Crabtree reports. "She approached the table and asked Ryan 'how he could live with himself' sipping expensive wine while advocating for cuts to programs for seniors and the poor. Some verbal jousting between Feinberg and the other two men ensued. One of the two men said he had ordered the wine, was drinking it and paying for it. In hearing how much the wine cost, Ryan said only: 'Is that how much it was?'"
Ryan only drank one glass of wine but becaues of ethics rules ended up paying for one of the bottles "out of an abundance of caution." When questioned by TPM, Ryan said he thinks it's "stupid" and "ridiculous" to pay that much for a bottle of wine:
TPM: ...she was saying, is it appropriate for you guys to be ordering that kind of wine $350 dollars-a-bottle?
Ryan: "A.) I didn't order it. B.) I had no idea what it would cost, and C.) ...I bought one of these bottles even though I drank a glass, and I always pull my own weight for my meals."
TPM: That was very smart. ... But do you think it's appropriate now that you know how much the wine cost to be drinking [such expensive wine] when you're advocating cuts for seniors?
Ryan: "I think it's stupid to pick up that much for a bottle of wine under any circumstance."
TPM: But you had to pay for it...
Ryan: "Yeah, I was like this is ridiculous. Who buys wine that expensive? It surprised me, and I think it's stupid under any circumstance to pay anything close to 100 dollars for a bottle of wine."
Well, it doesn't seem that Feinberg had much dignity to lose in the first place, and you can't blame TPM too much for trying to feed the traffic gods. (TPM has apparently taken some flak from its own readers for the story if this letter is any indication.)
But it's a little surprising to see a respectable left-leaning reporter like The Atlantic's Joshua Green making this story into a bigger deal than it is. Green wants to know how Ryan's drinking $350 wine is any different than John Edwards's infamous $400 dollar haircut. "If there's any justice in the world, Ryan ought to get at least as much grief for this as Edwards got," writes Green.
Yes, these stories would be exactly the same--if only John Edwards and a friend met in a barber shop to discuss policy, and Edwards found out after the fact that his friend had ordered up $400 haircuts. Of course, in reality, the $400 haircut was a revealing display of the son of a mill worker's phoniness and narcissism, whereas Ryan has no "habit" of drinking expensive wine, despite Green's false assertion, and has been sleeping on a cot in his office to save money before it was cool.