Election 2016

Paul Ryan Obscures His Koch-Backed Agenda With a Pack of Lies in Convention Speech

Koch mouthpiece Paul Ryan accepts the nomination for VP and speaks to GOP party faithful at the convention.

Photo Credit: C-SPAN

TAMPA, FLA. -- Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan may carry himself with an air of earnestness, but at his heart, he's a liar. What other determination could one make after Ryan's compendium of distortions and outright untruths, delivered Wednesday night to the Republican National Convention?

Whether falsely claiming that President Barack Obama was looting funding from Medicare to pay for health-care reform, blaming the president for the nation's credit-rating downgrade that came about as an unprecedented refusal by congressional leaders to raise the debt ceiling (a maneuver Ryan helped to lead), or accusing his opponent of refusing to to implement the recommendations of a bipartisan commission on the debt whose final report Ryan voted against, the Wisconsin congressman proved himself willing to hoodwink the American people with a smile on his boyish face.

It was to be expected, I suppose, given his status as the youthful ward of David Koch, the billionaire funder of Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group that helped lift the Wisconsin congressman from relative obscurity to the lofty post of House Budget Committee chairman, where he has championed a set of ideas that could have been authored by Koch himself -- ideas that fundamentally revolve around coddling the rich, crushing the poor and giving the shaft to the middle class.

It's not really a set of ideas one can sell truthfully to the voters, most of whom belong to the classes at which you're aiming the boot and the shaft. So, a little lying -- or a lot -- is required.

The selection of Paul Ryan was, in and of itself, a strong bit of circumstantial evidence that the Republican Party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Koch political enterprise. David Koch and his brother, Charles, you'll recall, are the multibillionaire brothers who are the principal owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately-held corporation in the United States.

Through Americans For Prosperity and its allies, the Kochs have built the get-out-the-vote infrastructure for the American right, cobbling together the old network of evangelical churches with more broadly defined Tea Party groups. It's a network to which the Republican presidential candidate desperately needs access if he's to win in November, especially given a shrinking number of persuadable independent voters. And Paul Ryan dances perfectly to the Kochs' tune, crafting economic plans that lower the taxes on the wealthy, cut social spending on the poor, and that would change Medicare into a virtually unrecognizable voucher program.

Striding to the convention podium with his gelled coif and boyish demeanor, Ryan looked more like a student council president than the prevaricating philosophical progeny of two of the greediest men on earth. But even as Ryan accused the Obama campaign of obscuring the president's true agenda, Ryan mentioned not a word about his plans to voucherize Medicare -- a plan that could cost seniors thousands of dollars more per year.

Lying to Obscure the Greed

In a move seemingly designed to taunt fact-checkers, Ryan reprised his claim that Obama broke a promise made during the 2008 presidential campaign to keep a General Motors plant open in Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wis., but instead was ultimately responsible for its closing. But the plant closed while George W. Bush was in office, and Obama never made such a promise. (As I write, PolitiFact has already rated this part of Ryan's speech as false.)

Here's a taste of just how blatant the lying got, from the prepared text of Ryan's speech:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.”  That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.  It is locked up and empty to this day.  And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight. 

Ryan also repeated the $716 billion lie by the Romney camp, debunked here by AlterNet's Joshua Holland, which recasts the Medicare budget savings built into the Affordable Care Act as a "raid" on the treasured program.
 
Then there were those deceptions based on sins of ommision, such as Ryan's purported proof of Obama's unwillingness to rein in the budget: the vice presidential candidate dared to speak of the Bowles-Simpson debt-reduction commission as if it was something he supported, when, in fact, it was Ryan who led Republicans on the commission to vote against its final recommendations. Likewise, Ryan failed to note that his own budget plan would trim $700 billion from Medicare.
 
(The New Republic's Jonathan Cohn and the Washington Post's Jonathan Bernstein have excellent assessments of the fact #fail in Ryan's speech, here and here.)
 
Ayn Rand, the Great Awakening and the Founding Fathers
 
The cognitive dissonance that clanged throughout Ryan's speech also extended to philosophical and theological references that would seem to cancel each other out, but have nonetheless come to characterize the philosophical pastiche that characterizes the talking points at Americans For Prosperity events. You've got your Ayn Rand -- an atheist and Ryan's favorite philosopher -- present in Ryan's casting of Obamacare as the work of "central planners." You've got your Great Awakening in his assertion that our rights come from God, not government. (On this point, the comic Elon James White, who is African American, tweeted that if this is the case, God was a little slow.) You've got your Enlightenment-influenced Founding Fathers in Ryan's tracing of our rights to nature.
 
Add ire and stir, and you've got the Kochian prescription for rallying resentful white people to view government as the enemy, even though its dimunition would ultimately harm the very people enlisted as foot-soldiers in the anti-government cause, and further enrich the likes of Charles and David Koch.
 
Morals versus religion
 
Ryan is frequently depicted as pious Catholic, despite his denial of a preferential option for the poor -- a staple of Catholic doctrine, In one sign of the mainstreaming of Catholicism into the body of conservative Christian denominations, Ryan was also enlisted to vouch for Romney as a moral and pious man -- even if he is a Mormon, a member of a faith that both the evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics who make up the Republican white-people coalition view with some suspicion.
 
In coded language, Ryan assured convention delegates and television viewers that the morals that mattered most to them were among those most dearly held by Romney: opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion. From the text of Ryan's speech:
Mitt and I also go to different churches.  But in any church, the best kind of preaching is done by example.  And I’ve been watching that example.  The man who will accept your nomination tomorrow is prayerful and faithful and honorable. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading this optimistic and good-hearted country. 
 
 Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed.  We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope.  Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.  
Lies, delivery and the post-fact society
 
The gamble the Romney campaign has made throughout this campaign, and most obviously in this year's Republican National Convention, is that the truth no longer matters, and that facts are irrelevant to the voting process. There's probably less risk to that gamble than one might think.
 
It has long been proven that people vote based on their emotions and their self-determined cultural identity. Because the narrative offered by Ryan and Romney feeds on the resentment already felt by so many middle-class whites -- a sense that they are somehow being shortchanged while others advance from their previously restricted positions -- it resonates. And for the Republican voter, that's all the "truth" that matters, the "truth" that vindicates his or her rage. Facts be damned -- damned to hell.