Web Only / Features » August 17, 2012
Who Is Paul Ryan?
The media’s image of Romney’s running mate doesn’t mesh with reality
The GOP's presumptive vice presidential nominee is the 21st century's flesh-and-blood embodiment of political deception and media obfuscation.
Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan admires Ayn Rand, and if you believe Republican Party mythology, Ryan is a messianic John Galt who will save America from a secret socialist conspiracy. Thus, in Rand fashion, it's worth asking: Who Is Paul Ryan?
The answer is simple: the GOP's presumptive vice presidential nominee is the 21st century's flesh-and-blood embodiment of political deception and media obfuscation.
Purporting to be a small-government budget hawk, Ryan publicly decries corporate welfare and says he wants “to get Washington out of the business of picking winners and losers.” This has generated press coverage promoting Ryan as a great fiscal conservative. Yet, written out of the story is the fact that Ryan is a Huge Government Republican who voted for–and in some cases, still defends–the biggest examples of corporate welfare in American history.
Ryan, you see, was the Huge Government Republican who backed this era's massive corporate bailouts–the one that picked politically connected companies as winners and taxpayers as losers. He was the Huge Government Republican who regularly voted for profligate war spending bills–the ones that blew a gaping hole in the federal budget. And he is the Huge Government Republican now using his committee chairmanship to oppose serious cuts to the deficit-exploding corporate welfare still embedded in the bloated Pentagon budget.
Similarly, Ryan claims to be, and is billed in the press as, a libertarian-inspired acolyte of Rand–a man who supposedly values freedom and limited government. But as a Huge Government Republican, he has consistently voted to expand the surveillance state, endorse warrantless wiretapping and permit indefinite detention. Oh, and in contradiction to Rand's writings, he has also pushed to use the power of Huge Government to end a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Like so many Republicans, Ryan genuflects to the private sector and insinuates that the government is not a job creator. It's funny coming from a guy who has spent most of his adult life as a federal employee and whose family's construction company brags of building its fortune off government highway contracts.
Ryan labels himself an opponent of “crony capitalism” and is often promoted by reporters as someone who can help Mitt Romney thwart the Washington insiders who corrupt our politics. Somehow, we are expected to ignore the fact that Ryan has spent the vast majority of his adult life in Washington; that his wife served as a top pharmaceutical and oil lobbyist in Washington; and that, as Newsweek reported in 2011, he tried to insert special provisions into federal law that would boost his personal oil investment portfolio.
Then there are Ryan's budget proposals, whose central premises are that Medicare must be gutted and Social Security must be turned over to Wall Street because we allegedly don't have enough revenue to fund them. In response, the press often credits Ryan's blueprint for being courageous and honest. Yet, in the very same plans, Ryan proposes to severely deplete public revenues by eliminating all taxes on capital gains, interest and dividends, meaning that, according to The Atlantic magazine, Mitt Romney would pay a 0.82 percent tax rate on his $21 million annual earnings.
Republican powerbrokers, of course, hope you never learn any of this. They hope you and an obsequious press don't bother to review Ryan's congressional votes or his legislative history. They are hoping, in other words, that when you see Ryan's boyish Midwestern visage, you won't see the real Ryan–and you won't see what his ascent to vice president might mean for the future of America.
David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.