As we bid a faux-fond farewell to Paul Ryan, who has parachuted from the flaming Republican plane, let’s give credit where credit is due. Few politicians in our era have been so adept at delivering fact-free whoppers with a choirboy bearing and baby-blue eyes.
Granted, I am ignoring the big picture. But Republican strategist Steve Schmidt says it better than I can. Take it away, Steve:
“Paul Ryan’s monument will be the putrid and smoldering ruins of the Republican Party and conservative movement that he betrayed with his complicity and cowardice. He lacked the guts to stand for decency and the wisdom to confront the threat of Trumpism.”
So there’s that. But I’ve long tracked Ryan’s talent for telling lies that ooze with earnest sincerity. Before they vanish into the mists of history, let’s replay some of his greatest hits. Just for fun.
The GM factory that Obama didn’t close
When Ryan accepted the Republican vice-presidential nomination in 2012, he wowed his credulous listeners with this tale about his home town in Wisconsin:
“My home state voted for President Obama [in 2008]. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it — especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at the plant, candidate Obama said, ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be there 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.”
Ryan was insinuating two scenarios: President Obama broke his promise and closed the Janesville plant; or, at minimum, President Obama sat on his hands while GM closed the plant.
Both were lies. GM closed that plant and laid off 2,400 people on Dec. 23, 2008. Obama took the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2009.
The nonexistent school kid who didn’t denounce government lunches
When Ryan addressed a conservative confab in 2014, he riffed about the evils of government lunch programs. He told a tale that he’d heard from Eloise Anderson, who served in Scott Walker’s Wisconsin cabinet:
“She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
So the kid didn’t want to be fed for free by an uncaring government … great story for the right-wing crowd! But it was all BS. Turned out, Anderson never met such a kid. She swiped the anecdote from a 2011 non-fiction book, attributed it to herself, and invented a parable about the evils of government lunch programs. The book’s author, Laura Schroff, had befriended an 11-year-old panhandler named Maurice Mazyck. Schroff offered to make him lunch, and Mazyck replied, “I want my lunch in a brown paper bag. Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a paper bag, that means someone cares about them.”
When the truth surfaced, Ryan said that, gosh, he should’ve verified Anderson’s yarn before using it. But the best part of the episode was its epilogue: The adult Maurice Mazyck is a social activist who partners with a group called No Kid Hungry … which hooks up hungry kids with federal lunch programs.
The big federal program that the congressman pretended to hate
During his veep nomination speech in 2012, Ryan uncorked a stinging attack on President Obama’s economic stimulus program, calling it “political patronage, corporate welfare, and cronyism at their worst.” The crowd ate it up, believing (why shouldn’t they?) that the ire of this self-avowed conservative ideologue was as pure as the driven snow.
He neglected to share with them the factual truth that, in 2009, on behalf of his Wisconsin constituents, he had written four letters to the Obama administration, begging and pleading for stimulus money.
When the truth came out, he actually uttered this sentence: “No, I never asked for stimulus.” He also said this: “I’m not one of those people who votes for something, then writes to the government to ask them to send us money. I did not request any stimulus money.”
It’s always nice to be reminded that blatant lying didn’t begin with Trump.
The letters were priceless. On Oct. 5, 2009, he wrote to the Obama administration on behalf of the Energy Center of Wisconsin: “I would appreciate it if you … would give [the stimulus money application] your prompt and full consideration.” On Oct. 7, he wrote two more letters on behalf of the Energy Center: “I believe they would make effective use of the funds they would receive.” And on Dec. 18, he told the Obama administration that the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. would use the stimulus money to create “sustainable demand for green jobs,” and to “reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” (Apparently, in 2009, he did believe in climate change.)
When Ryan was shown these letters in 2012, he offered his final defense: “I don’t recall.”
The tax reform that reforms nothing
I’ve left the best ’til last. During his retirement announcement yesterday, Ryan praised his so-called signature achievement as Speaker: “Major reform of our tax code for the first time in 36 years, which has already been a huge success for this country, and that’s something I’ve been working on in my entire adult life.”
This was his all-time slickest falsehood. Ryan didn’t enact tax reform. Real tax reform is when you overhaul the code and stabilize the budget deficit. Fake reform is when you slash the taxes of the rich, give a pittance to the average person, and wind up flooding the deficit with so much red ink that it’s projected to hit $1 trillion by 2020.
Even Ryan’s purported reputation as a fiscal hawk turned out to be phony. In the end he betrayed the conservative principles he claimed to believe. And that’s no lie.