Only forty-eight hours into his anointment as Mitt Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan is enjoying the riches of the legend making machine known as the politically skewed media. I think that Ryan Lizza’s profile of Paul Ryan in the New Yorker earlier this month should be required reading for folks of all political stripes. In it, two myths are busted, one that might gain traction if folks don’t know the facts and the other which is already a talking point for Democrats.
Paul Ryan Pulled Himself Up By His Bootstraps
Saturday night on a special edition of Hardball, Chris Matthews floated a notion of a middle class Ryan to centrist Michelle Bernard of the Bernard Center for Women. Michelle shot back how appealing it is to Americans to see someone who has “pulled himself up by his bootstraps”. According to the Lizza article, this is total nonsense.
Janesville, Wisconsin, where Ryan was born and still lives, is a riverfront city of sixty-four thousand people in the southeast corner of the state, between Madison and Chicago. Three families, the Ryans, the Fitzgeralds, and the Cullens, sometimes called the Irish Mafia, helped develop the town, especially in the postwar era. The Ryans were major road builders, and today Ryan, Inc., started in 1884 by Paul’s great-grandfather, is a national construction firm. The historic Courthouse section of Janesville is still thick with members of the Ryan clan. At last count, there were eight other Ryan households within a six-block radius of his house, a large Georgian Revival with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I grew up on the block I now live on,” Ryan told me recently. We were sitting in his new, more spacious Capitol Hill office, one of the spoils of being in the majority after the 2010 elections. “My aunt and uncle live across the street from me,” he said. “My cousin is next door, my brother is a block away.” Ryan’s line of the family strayed from the construction business, which is now run by his cousin Adam. His grandfather and father became lawyers instead. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2012/08/06/120806fa_fact_lizza#ixzz23ROrOJTj)
Ryan grew up in a prestigious Janesville family, the inheritor of their influence and wealth. What feeds into the false myth is the tragedy that struck Ryan at age 16 when he went to wake his father up and discovered him dead. (Ryan’s grandfather and great-grandfather also died before age 60, leading Ryan to pursue an almost fanatic health regimen.) Clearly Ryan may have had to pull himself up by his bootstraps emotionally. He did not have to do so economically. When we look at the mansion that Ryan calls home, we realize the GOP is running two very rich guys for office. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Ryan, the Deficit Hawk
Although Ryan championed the privatization of Social Security during the Bush administration, in almost every other way he resembles your average Tea Partier. He only found economic-Jesus when Barack Obama entered the White House. Every big-ticket item responsible for the huge deficit that Obama inherited received a thumbs up from “fiscally conservative” Ryan:
Bush Tax cuts for the rich — Ryan says yeah!
War in Iraq with no way to pay for it — Ryan says yeah!
War in Afghanistan with no way to pay for it — Ryan says yeah!
Medicare Part D — Ryan says yeah!
TARP — Ryan says yeah!
Given the opportunity to oppose any of these items, Ryan passed. He now talks about how disappointed he was with the Bush spending and that he was frustrated at the time. His disappointment is certainly not reflected in his voting record. If Romney becomes President and the GOP spends like crazy, the same way it did from 2001 through 2008, will Ryan attempt to stop the tide of reckless spending or give up the fight in frustration?
Ryan says he has deeply held libertarian, Ayn Rand influenced economic beliefs. I take him at his word. The question is will he adhere to principle or cave to party pressure when the chips are down?
Photo credit: Adapted from The White House from Washington, DC (P022510PS-0748) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons