The ’14 Conservative Political Action Conference featured the usual unhinged hijinks – Donald Trump mistakenly said that Jimmy Carter was dead, Mitch McConnell took the stage brandishing a gun, a former half-term Alaska governor gibbered that Vladimir Putin can be thwarted “by a good guy with a nuke,” the straw-poll voters picked Rand Paul and Ted Cruz as their ’16 nomination faves – but nothing scored higher on the hilarity meter than Paul Ryan’s rhetorical con job.
His CPAC contribution was no surprise. As anyone who recalls the ’12 campaign can attest, Ryan is deft at delivering fact-averse whoppers while flashing his baby blues.
For instance, his ’12 claim that Barack Obama closed a General Motors plant in his Wisconsin home town (the shutdown occurred a month before Obama took office), his claim that he “never” sought Obama stimulus money (he wrote four ’09 letters seeking stimulus money), his claim that Obama aimed to hurt seniors by taking $700 billion out of Medicare (the money was shifted to the health reform law, specifically to help seniors with enhanced preventive health services)…and so many more.
Which brings us to Ryan’s Thursday speech, where at one point he assailed school lunch programs (those government programs destroy the soul, you see). Here’s what Ryan told the credulous CPAC crowd:
The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the cabinet of my buddy, Governor Scott Walker. (Audience cheers.) 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.
Wow, that’s amazing! A young boy comes out of the woodwork to tell a top-ranking Walker official exactly what Paul Ryan and the CPAC crowd wants to hear – that he doesn’t want to be fed by an uncaring government. Eloise Anderson is Walker’s secretary of the Department of Children and Families, she got it straight from the kid, and she told Ryan about it.
So poignant, so heart-wrenching…and oh so suspiciously perfect.
Let’s unpack Ryan’s speech passage; please hold your laughter until we’re done.
First, a flashback: Last July, Ryan conducted a House hearing on the food stamp program, and hosted Anderson as an expert witness. Anderson testified, “You know, a little boy told me once that what was important to him is that he didn’t want school lunch, he wanted a brown bag because the brown bag that he brought with his lunch in it meant that his mom cared about him…If this kid tells me a brown bag was more important than a free lunch, we’ve missed the whole notion of parents being there for their children.”
So the kid talked to Anderson, Anderson told Ryan about the kid, and Ryan relayed the kid’s story to CPAC…but hang on, there’s a big problem:
No such kid ever talked to Anderson.
Turns out, she stole the anecdote from a 2011 non-fiction book entitled The Invisible Thread – and attributed it to herself. The book’s author, an executive named Laura Schroff, befriended an 11-year-old panhandler named Maurice Mazyck. Schroff offered to make him lunch, and the kid 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.”
Fortunately, a few eagle-eyed websites blew the whistle. They heard Ryan’s CPAC speech, and realized that the brown-bag quote sounded awfully familiar – because they had read Schroff’s book. Fact-checkers at The Washington Post followed up by asking Anderson to explain herself. An Anderson spokesman ‘fessed up (sort of) by saying that she “misspoke” during her House testimony.
Ryan was compelled to post an oops on Facebook: “I regret failing to verify the original source of the story.” But I get why he didn’t do it. The temptation to retail a perfect right-wing anecdote, regardless of inconvenient facts, was just too powerful. You know, like the Koch brothers bankrolling a too-perfect-to-be true TV ad about a leukemia victim supposedly screwed by Obamacare, and featuring too-perfect-to-be-true Louisiana citizens who turn out to be actors for hire.
Oh, and I forgot to mention something: The incident described in the book, which had nothing whatsoever to do with government lunch programs, took place a quarter century ago.
Oh wait, I forgot to mention this, too: Today, 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.
And darn it, I forgot this as well: The group that’s partnering with Mazyck attacked Paul Ryan’s ’13 House budget – because Ryan proposed sharp cuts in the food stamp program.
OK, we’re done. You may laugh now.
Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1