Paul Krugman revealed Ryan’s big con years ago. It’s gotten worse. Why does anyone take him seriously on policy?
If the GOP as a whole has pretty much given up on the whole “rebranding” thing, their 2012 vice presidential nominee, Congressman Paul Ryan, most definitely has not. In fact, rebranding is pretty much his thing, regardless of how credible — or incredible, actually — his efforts may be.
For years, Ryan touted himself as an avid Ayn Rand disciple, until he didn’t in early 2012, even calling it “an urban legend” that he had anything serious to do with Rand at all. He then tried to present the latest iteration of his draconian soak-the-poor/shower the rich budget proposal as grounded in Catholic social teaching, rather than Rand’s fiercely anti-Christian philosophy, a claim that the conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops soundly rejected, writing that his proposed budget failed to meet certain “moral criteria” by disproportionately cutting programs that “serve poor and vulnerable people.”
Now, seeking to put all memory of the “47 percent” campaign behind him, Ryan’s trying to take that reinvention to a whole new level. He’s still touting a budget that dramatically slashes spending on programs that benefit Americans of limited means — 69 percent of all cuts — including $137 billion from food stamps, 24 percent or $732 billion from Medicaid, and $125 billion from Pell Grants, among others — while giving millionaires an average tax cut of at least $200,000. Yet, at the same time, Ryan is trying to reinvent himself as someone who’s serious about fighting poverty, only from a conservative perspective.
Setting the massive contradictions aside for the moment, it’s not an absurd idea in theory. The modern European welfare state was actually invented by conservatives, beginning in Germany, under the first post-unification chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. But this happened in the face of a powerful socialist movement, amidst tremendous dislocations, as well as international pressures that gave German elites powerful reasons to want to make life in Germany much more tolerable for the German people as a whole. In short, when the real-world political incentives are there, history shows that conservatives really can find effective ways to help fight poverty. The only problem is, the solutions they come up are the very thing that cause conservatives today, like Ryan and his Tea Party brethren, to foam at the mouth, and call “socialism!”
And so he came up with his 204-page report, The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later, a con job, as Paul Krugman called it, but that was hardly a surprise. Con jobs are a Ryan’s specialty, More on that later.
What was a surprise, at least to some, was the utter clumsiness of how Ryan’s new focus on poverty got him into trouble on race. He went onto Bill Bennett’s radio show and channelled Newt Gingrich from the 2012 primaries:
We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.
Ryan also cited Charles Murray, white nationalist author of “The Bell Curve.” While many people took him to be speaking in racial code, it was arguably even worse if he was not, as Brian Beutler pointed out:
But if Ryan genuinely stumbled heedless into a racial tinderbox then it suggests he, and most likely many other conservatives, has fully internalized a framing of social politics that wasdeliberately crafted to appeal to white racists without regressing to the uncouth language of explicit racism, and written its origins out of the history.
Of course, something like this has actually happened repeatedly throughout the history of white supremacy in America: True origins are constantly being erased, nefarious intentions hidden, unspeakable injustices naturalized. But what I find fascinating about Ryan is how self-assuredly he switches from all-knowing to naif, without for a moment even thinking this might tarnish his moral authority in any way. He later said his comments had “nothing to do” with race, and the next day issued a statement saying, “After reading the transcript of yesterday morning’s interview, it is clear that I was inarticulate about the point I was trying to make.” There was no sense of moral responsibility at all, no sense that he owed anyone an apology. (This is all quite typical of a psychopathic personality — as will be touched on below.) But he did have to do something, from a political point of view.
And so he met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus this Wednesday, in order to try to pretend to have a dialogue on poverty. It was not very much of a success. “We didn’t get a whole lot accomplished,” CBC chair Marcia Fudge said to the press afterward, but Ryan found it easy to pretend otherwise. “What is good out of this is that we need to talk about better ideas on getting at the root cause of poverty, to try and break the cycle of poverty.” Ryan also spoke about the need to “improve the tone” in the conversation about poverty — something that he himself might have thought about earlier, no?