Seems like the Pope Has Conservative Paul Ryan Rattled
Photo Credit: A.M. Stan
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When 1.3 million Americans lose their unemployment benefits on Saturday, they can thank Rep. Paul Ryan. He took the lead in negotiating a bipartisan budget deal with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, and on behalf of his party, held the line against continuing extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless.
Sure, a lot of Republicans share blame with Ryan. But he deserves extra-special (negative) credit for the deal, because he has lately had the audacity to depict himself as the new face of “compassionate conservatism,” insisting Republicans must pay attention to the problems of the poor. Friends say the man who once worshipped Ayn Rand now takes Pope Francis as his moral role model. Except he can’t help treating his new role model with arrogance and contempt.
It’s true that while knuckle-draggers like Rush Limbaugh attack the pope as a Marxist, Ryan has praised him, which I guess takes a tiny bit of courage since normally Republicans don’t like to buck the leader of their party. “What I love about the pope is he is triggering the exact kind of dialogue we ought to be having,” Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “People need to get involved in their communities to make a difference, to fix problems soul to soul.”
But he couldn’t suppress either his right-wing politics or his supreme capacity for condescension for very long. “The guy is from Argentina, they haven’t had real capitalism in Argentina,” Ryan said (referring to the pope as “the guy” is a nice folksy touch.) “They have crony capitalism in Argentina. They don’t have a true free enterprise system.”
Beltway journalists would have us believe Ryan’s love for the guy from Argentina is triggering genuine new interest in helping the poor. “My bet is that he’s on Pope Francis’ team,” a former Romney-Ryan advisor told BuzzFeed’s McKay Coppins, for a worshipful Ryan profile headlined “Paul Ryan finds God.”
I admit, I have been immune to Ryan’s various efforts to brand himself as a bright and innovative Republican over the years – and I continue to be. Let’s recall: The guy who impressed Ezra Klein as a serious albeit deficit-obsessed budget wonk turned out to be terrible at math – his heralded “Roadmap,” the Ryan budget, busted out the deficit for years and didn’t balance the budget until 2040, thanks to its generous tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.
Now we’re supposed to believe Ryan is going to deliver an anti-poverty agenda as soon as the spring. “This is my next ‘Roadmap,’” Ryan told an aide, according to Coppins. “I want to figure out a way for conservatives to come up with solutions to poverty. I have to do this.”
Excuse me if I remain a skeptic. Ryan’s prescription for the poor is, and always has been, a dose of discipline. Even in 2010, with unemployment in his own district hovering around 12 percent, he voted against extending unemployment benefits on the grounds that they’d increase the deficit – and then reversed himself when they were coupled with an extension of Bush tax cuts, which of course added far more to the deficit than extended benefits.
Ryan has always defended his stinginess on safety net issues as tough love for the poor, giving them “incentives” to take a job, any job, to support their families.
“We have an incentive-based system where people want to get up and make the most of their lives, for themselves and their kids,” he says. “We don’t want to turn this safety net into a hammock that ends up lulling people in their lives into dependency and complacency. That’s the big debate we’re having right now.”