Pinocchio politics: Paul Ryan's speech can't stand up to scrutiny
Move over, Pinocchio. Make way for Paul Ryan.
His veep acceptance speech was a clinic in serial dishonesty - as we shall see momentarily - but I doubt whether he'll pay a price for it. Style generally trumps substance on the TV screen, and Ryan, with his gee-whiz choirboy countenance and his gift for conversational patter, was surely a big hit in the American living room. He's the post-Reagan communicator that conservatives have been pining for. He can recite a litany of untruths and still get off easy because he looks like the boy next door.
Nevertheless, for we hardy few who still care about facts, it was disconcerting last night to watch the incremental extension of his nose. It happened at least eight times:
1. At one point, he denounced the evils of "a government-planned life," and contrasted it with his own "American journey" that began when he was "waiting tables, washing dishes, mowing lawns for money." Oh please. This guy has spent virtually his entire adult life in government - 14 years on Capitol Hill starting at age 28, and before that he was a congressional aide. His own brother, Tobin Ryan, said on Fox News yesterday (this was hilarious): "I never actually thought he was going to be a career politician. I kept expecting him to come back and start a real job."
The young Paul Ryan even availed himself of the government's largesse at a young age. After the death of his dad, he paid for his college tuition with Social Security survivor's benefits. Indeed, his whole family made a fortune in the railroad and highway construction business with the help of government contracts.
2. Last night Ryan denounced President Obama's economic stimulus, calling it "political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst." Somehow he forgot to mention that, in his capacity as a Wisconsin congressmen, he wrote four letters to the Obama administration in 2009, begging and pleading for stimulus money.
A few weeks ago, when he was asked by the press whether he had ever sought stimulus money, he lied: "No, I never asked for stimulus." Then the four letters surfaced. On Oct. 7, 2009, for instance, he wrote to the Obama administration on behalf of the Energy Center of Wisconsin: "I believe they would make effective use of the funds they would receive." On Dec. 18, 2009, he told the Obama administration that the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. would use the government money to create "sustainable demand for green jobs," and to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
3. Last night, Ryan told this story: "My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it - especially in (his home town) Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at the plant, candidate Obama said, 'I believe that if our government is there to support you . . . this plant will be there for another hundred years.' That's what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day."
So Obama closed that GM plant, right?
Wrong. Obama didn't close that plant. GM closed that plant. The company shut it down and laid off 2,400 people on Dec. 23, 2008 - a month before Obama even took office.
4. Ryan attacked Obama for ignoring the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles debt-reduction commission: "They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing." Ryan somehow forgot to tell his rapt listeners that he, in fact, had been a member of that bipartisan panel - and that he had voted against the recommendations.
5. Ryan said last night that Obama's tenure "began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States. It ends with a downgraded America." In truth, the downgrade occurred last summer because there was fear that America would default on its debts. Why? Because House Republicans (including Ryan) refused to raise the debt ceiling. They held our credit rating hostage in the hopes that Obama would bow to their right-wing budget demands.
6. Ryan said: "The greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves." But independent budget analysts have already determined that 62 percent of the government spending cuts in the Ryan budget plan would hit the programs that serve low-income Americans - you know, "those who cannot defend or care for themselves."
7. Ryan said that Obama is "pretty experienced" at "throwing away money," a habit that "has added more debt than any other president before him." Wow, where to begin...Ryan never said a word of protest back when George W. Bush was spreading red ink all over the budget ledger; on the contrary, Ryan voted for the elective Iraq war (which was never paid for), the Medicare drug prescription benefit (which was never paid for), and the Bush tax cuts for the rich (which were never paid for). Indeed, with respect to the debt, the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has done projections through 2019 (using nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office figures) and concluded that the biggest debt driver, by far, is the Bush tax cuts.
8. Ryan said that Obama is hurting seniors by taking money away from Medicare: "Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed." Zoom goes the nose again, although this particular whopper (recited daily by Mitt Romney) has been around for weeks. As I've written before, Obama isn't "sacrificing" seniors. He's shifting $716 billion out of Medicare and into the health reform law - where seniors will get new benefits, such as free preventive services and prescription drug coverage.
But what I loved best about this Ryan lie was its glaring omission. He didn't bother to inform his audience that his own budget plan envisions taking almost the exact same amount of money out of Medicare - except, in his case, he wouldn't plow it back into new benefits for seniors. No, he envisions using those billions to help pay for new tax cuts for the rich.
All told, it could've been worse last night. Ryan could've repeated the rote Romney lie about how Obama has supposedly "gutted" the welfare-to-work law (dog whistle to white working class voters), but, blessedly, that sordid task was outsourced to Rick Santorum on Tuesday. Ryan was sufficiently dishonest to prove his worth to the GOP, and, besides, who can resist those big baby blues? Style trumps substance in post-truth America. A star is born.
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