There’s absurd, then obscene, then Paul Ryan

“Chutzpah” is classically exemplified by the man who murders his parents and then pleads for mercy on account of being an orphan.

A step beyond such chutzpah is laughable absurdity.

A step beyond that is self-contradiction and hypocrisy so astonishing it becomes obscene.

And a step beyond that is this Republican Party fundraiser, casting the Apostle of Austerity himself, Ayn-Rand disciple Rep. Paul Ryan, as the defender of “the safety net for the poor.”


That’s from Matt Yglesias, who finds it fascinating that this fundraising appeal aimed at the GOP’s hard-core base, is premised on the idea “that conservatives are eager to develop a self-image of themselves as the real friends of the poor.”

Steve Benen also received a copy of this fundraiser, and says:

A Paul Ryan letter sent by the RNC is concerned that “the net for the poor is coming apart at the seams and no one in Washington seems to care”?

You’ve. Got. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

Ryan is the one swinging the machete at the safety net precisely because he doesn’t care. Put it this way: there’s only one party in Washington trying to slash spending on unemployment aid, student loans, food stamps, and job training, and I’ll give you a hint, it’s not the Democrats.

That said, if the RNC believes concern for the safety net is likely to appeal to Republican donors, it’s probably safe to say the Occupy movement has already changed the national conversation in rather fundamental ways.

Charlie Pierce also is in awe of the “unmitigated swill” it takes to “[trot] out Ayn Rand’s Brycreem’d doppelganger to raise money based on his party’s obvious concern for ‘the safety net.'”

Pierce is particularly appalled by the ludicrous dishonesty of this pose due to having just subjected himself to covering Paul Ryan’s recent speech at the Heritage Foundation: “Paul Ryan Is Living in a Fantasy Land Older Than Ayn Rand.”

Stop running away from your constituents, and siccing the cops on them back home while you’re in Hawaii, and ask some guy who got laid off at the Janesville GM plant last spring, if his primary worry is that his unemployment check is turning him complacent and draining him of his incentive to look for a job that probably isn’t there, because unemployment in your district is running in double digits. Is that guy a maker or a taker? Speak up. Your constituents would like to know. If they can afford a ticket, that is.

The title of that piece seems like an allusion to John Rogers’ classic summary of the Randian nonsense that forms the foundation of Paul Ryan’s political philosophy and agenda:

There are two novels that can change a bookish 14-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Echoes of that can be heard, too, in the title of Jonathan Chait’s response to Ryan’s Heritage speech: “The Ideological Fantasies of Inequality Deniers.” Chait writes:

We’re not having a debate about how to reverse or even stop the growth of inequality. Nobody has a real plan to do that. The Democratic plan is to slightly arrest the growth of inequality by hiking taxes on the rich a few percentage points, so as to minimize the need to cut the social safety net. The Republican plan is to slash taxes for the rich and programs for the poor, thereby massively increasing inequality.

That second link of Chait’s leads to an analysis of Paul Ryan’s own budget proposal, which finds that “Ryan Gets Nearly Two-Thirds of His Huge Budget Cuts From Programs for Lower-Income Americans.” That is his agenda and that is his goal. It’s why he ran for Congress and it’s what he’s working for in Congress. He wants a massive reduction in the size and scope of “the safety net for the poor.”

Ryan says that Ayn Rand is “the reason I got involved in public service.” Rand would have regarded that term, “public service,” as an oxymoron, but let that pass. Rand’s importance to Ryan is underscored by the fact that he requires his staffers to read Atlas Shrugged. Yes, the very same “childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world” we were just discussing.

Matt Yglesias also noted that Heritage speech, in which Ryan advocated for “equality of opportunity.” But as Yglesias notes, the actual policies Ryan supports would do nothing to promote, support or even allow equality of opportunity. And those policies that would foster equality of opportunity are opposed, vigorously, by Ryan:

This naturally raises the question of what it is that Ryan is doing to level the playing field between kids with rich parents and kids with poor parents. Is he a proponent of boosting Section 8 housing vouchers and other federal programs that might make it easier for poor parents to move their kids into high-quality school districts? Has he done anything to boost child nutrition or children’s health programs? Does Ryan think we should make it more difficult for wealthy parents to directly transfer financial resources to their children? Does Ryan support making Pell Grants more generous? Equalizing funding across school districts? Well, no, he doesn’t support any of those things. We all remember Paul Ryan’s big picture budget plan. Its key planks were:

  • Lower taxes on high income individuals.
  • Generous retirement benefits for people born in 1956 or older.
  • Deep immediate reductions in anti-poverty spending.
  • Major reductions in retirement benefits for people born after 1956.

What items on that agenda would increase equality of opportunity? The answer, of course, is that none of them would.

When that’s the case, proclaiming oneself a proponent of equality of opportunity would seem like the height of audacious hypocrisy.

Except that height was exceeded by the fundraiser above, casting Ryan as the defender of the safety net for the poor. That’s just indefensible.

You like Ayn Rand? You were inspired to run for office by The Virtue of Selfishness and you require your staffers to read her didactic novels? Fine. But at least have the courage, honesty and decency to own that and to own up to it. If that’s what you believe, then don’t talk about the safety net for the poor as though it’s something you believe in, or approve of, or want to sustain.

Just tell the truth instead.

Oh, one more point about that Heritage speech — Ryan got his facts wrong, too. In praising the equality of opportunity he supports in the abstract and opposes in the particular, Ryan also praised America as a model of “upward mobility,” as contrasted with the hidebound nations of Europe where, “Top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.” In contrast to Europe, Ryan said, working class Americans are not permanently “stuck in their current station in life.”

TalkingPointsMemo’s Brian Beutler points out that Ryan is simply wrong. Upward mobility is much more possible in most of Europe than it is in America.

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