Two Myths about Paul Ryan

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. (

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 Political Blogger Alliance

Shame in Wisconsin and Washington

Wednesday ended with shame in Wisconsin. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got punked by a fake David Koch, he shared a plan whereby he would trick the Senate Democrats into showing up in the capitol just long enough to establish a quorum whether they stayed during the entire session that day or not. It was a technicality that Walker would use to push his union busting legislation through. Of course, after sharing the plan in the recorded conversation with fake Koch, he had to abandon it. The deviousness of this Governor should have made what transpired Wednesday night predictable. The Senate Republicans stripped all budget language from the controversial bill and then rammed through a vote on the bill, claiming that without any budgetary content, a quorum was no longer needed.

The great shame here is that everyone was willing to compromise on the budget portions of the bill. Concessions on salary and benefits were going to be made. It was only the elimination of collective bargaining that was the issue. And it was that very issue that the Republican Senate rammed through by voting on that in isolation. If the majority of Wisconsin citizens were behind this, the legislative shenanigans might not be so bad. However, Wisconsin voters don’t want this bill passed. Walker is playing dictator. Hopefully the vote will be reversed on legal grounds. Hopefully, Walker will be impeached before he can be recalled.

Sadly, this week there is much shame to go around. Today, Peter King, a House representative from New York will launch an investigation into the radicalization of American Muslims. What purpose could this possibly serve except as a witch hunt against a particular religion? There is no doubt that Muslim radicals abroad have influenced the behavior of some American citizens, most notably Nidal Hasan in the Fort Hood shooting. However this is a law enforcement issue. It is not an issue for which any legislation is necessary. So why waste time on the legislative calendar to “investigate” the phenomenon? It’s pure grandstanding on the part of King who wants to appeal to the paranoid base of the Republican party.

You need to know only two things about King to know he is the wrong man to be launching this witch hunt. Back in the 1980’s King supported the terrorist actions of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). So much for his disdain for violence in the name of a cause. More recently, before the dead body of singer Michael Jackson was barely cold, King saw fit to call the musician a “low-life” and “pervert” because of past allegations of child abuse. While King had every right to his opinion about Jackson, his timing for speaking publicly could not have been worse. It established King as a first class jerk.

So now King enjoys the distinction of launching hearings that mark a new low precedent for our country, namely hearings that single out a particular religion as susceptible to violence and terrorism. Did we launch hearings about Irish-Catholics after Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City? Did we start a Congressional investigation into American Jews when bankers brought our economy to its knees? Up until today, our government hasn’t sanctioned singling out a particular religion for the actions of some of its members. Thanks to Peter King, those days are gone.

The events in Wisconsin and Washington this week illustrate that we live in sad times. One can only hope there will be political retribution for Walker and King who have brought shame on our democracy.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance

Protest or Abdication of Responsibility?

When we get right down to it, the behavior of just about everyone involved in the Wisconsin budget controversy is reprehensible. The most obvious villain is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker who is using the need for budget cuts as an excuse to bust public unions in Wisconsin, or at least the unions that didn’t help get him elected. Eliminating the right of collective bargaining goes way beyond any needs to control salary and pensions. In fact it has been documented that the unions are willing to compromise on salaries and pensions. That is not good enough for Walker who wants to make a national name for himself as a union buster.

The natural response to this power grab is to put all our weight behind any and all efforts to stop Walker. Unfortunately, neither of the two most newsworthy responses to Walker pass the smell test as appropriate.  First, we have the Democratic State Senators who have fled to Illinois and other parts outside Wisconsin to avoid a vote on the budget in the Senate. Without a quorum, the vote cannot take place. To make matters more bizarre, the Senators can be compelled to show up at work if they are in-state. Hence, their decision to flee across state lines. This might make most liberals cheer but I find it plain irresponsible. Senators are elected to legislate. They speak their mind, they debate, and they vote. And the chips fall where they may. That is the way the system works. To sabotage the system by playing fugitive is juvenile at best and dereliction of duty at worst.

Of course the other newsworthy “protest” going on is that of the “people on the street”. But these aren’t just run of the mill people. These are not postal workers, or other public workers whose work would be missed but not to any great consequence in the short-term. These are teachers. When teachers refuse to teach, our kids don’t get an education. To make matters worse, they are not officially on strike. They are calling in “sick”. Don’t we teach our kids that it is wrong to call in sick to school when you are not sick? Not only are these teachers sending an incredibly hypocritical message to their students, they are encouraging students to protest with them. The students don’t belong in the rotunda of the State capitol, they belong in school. The teachers belong in school doing the jobs tax payers pay them to do.

In the 80’s when Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers, I for one, cheered. There are certain jobs where there should not be the luxury of a walkout. Those jobs involve life and death issues (like air traffic safety, or doctors or nurses or police) and the education of our children. Collective bargaining is one thing and I believe in it but the threat to walkout should be off the table as a bargaining tactic.

Perhaps we are witnessing the consequence of a slow devolution of societal norms: whether it’s Joe Wilson yelling “you lie” at a sitting President of the United States during a national address or Christine O’Donnell making a career running for office to pay her rent or Democratic Senators playing hooky to hijack the legislative process or teachers teaching by example that if you don’t like the system just opt out. We no longer have any shame. Any tactic will do.

I’d love to just go partisan on this one. Clearly Governor Walker’s intent and methods are out of line. But I just can’t get behind folks refusing to do their jobs. Walker may be wrong but he’s showing up to work everyday. That puts him one notch above his opponents in my book.

Rutherford Political Blogger Alliance