Debunking the Paul Ryan Myths

Friday, August 17, 2012
By: Matthew Brooks

It's only been a few days since he was added to the Republican ticket, but already the Democrat-driven Paul Ryan myths are piling up.  In a ritual familiar to many of us from past GOP VP roll-outs, the feverish emails, hyped-up lists and overwrought press releases reveal a desperate Democratic party straining to scare American voters - including Jewish voters.  The aim this year is to get voters to focus on Ryan rather than President Obama's record of failure.  And they're scared that voters will judge for themselves and come to the same conclusion as Bill Clinton's Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, who offered this glowing assessment of Ryan and his signature budget.

Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? We should get him to come to the university. I’m telling you, this guy is amazing. I always thought I was okay at arithmetic, this guy can run circles around me. And he is honest, he is straightforward, he is sincere. And the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget, and it cut the budget deficit, just like [the budget commission Bowles co-chaired] did, by $4 trillion.

That's a pretty good 'reference' given the work that lies ahead for the next President of the United States and his team.  Especially in contrast to Bowles's assessment of the incumbent.

The president came out with his own plan. And, the president as you remember, came out with a budget. And I don’t think anybody took that budget very seriously. The Senate voted against it 97-to-nothing.

The need to distract voters from making that sort of assessment of the two presidential tickets drives the zeal to propagate myths, some silly, some scurrilous. Here are just five we've seen since the weekend.

1. Paul Ryan is a social issues crusader

This is one of the most mindless and predictable attacks.  While it's true that Ryan's views on social issues reflect his Midwestern congressional district, those issues have never been his focus.  Also striking - Ryan parted ways with social conservatives on one of the major gay rights issues considered by Congress during his tenure, a proposed law to ban job discrimination based on sexual preference

2. Paul Ryan will take away your Bubbe's Medicare

The recent exchange between CNN's Wolf Blitzer and DNC Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz attracted a lot of attention, especially from amused Republicans.  The serious take-away from the episode is that Wasserman Schultz was bound and determined not to admit that today's seniors - as well as those nearing retirement - will be unaffected by the Medicare reforms Ryan proposed in tandem with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.  Democrats plainly intend to propagate this lie far and wide.  But it's still a lie - and an egregious one given that the intent is to scare seniors.

Since Democrats are trying to suggest otherwise, it's also important to make clear that under the Ryan-Wyden plan, the decision to opt for a private plan instead of traditional Medicare would be left up to the individual, not dictated by the government.

3.  Paul Ryan is a blank slate on foreign policy

It's pretty rich to hear people who promoted then-Sen. Barack Obama four years ago faulting Ryan for having specialized in other legislative areas than foreign policy.  And while it's true that few can claim to have sat in as many committee hearings or gone on as many congressional trips as Joe Biden racked up in his 36 years in the Senate, it's also true that Biden is infamous for getting every important foreign policy question wrong - from the Cold War through the Iraq surge.

And Paul Ryan has an excellent record of support for the State of Israel, which is why Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. described him as ‘very supportive’ of the Jewish state within hours of the announcement that he was Romney's pick.

Paul Ryan has also demonstrated a consistent understanding of why our alliance with Israel is so critical - one that compares favorably to President Obama's equivocal record of support.  Explaining his approach on his House of Representatives web site, he said:

America has no better friend in the Middle East than the nation of Israel...  We cannot advocate for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that jeopardizes Israel’s safety or legitimizes terrorism.

Notwithstanding Rep. Ryan's decision to make budget policy his area of specialization, he has demonstrated that he has reflected seriously on our nation's role in the world.

Critics who say he has no relevant experience are almost certainly compounding egregious hypocrisy with credentialism.  By their standard, Bill Clinton would have had even less foreign policy 'experience' than Ryan when he took the oath of office as President.

4. Paul Ryan opposed efforts to strengthen sanctions on Iran.

Rep. Ryan has supported every single Iran sanctions measure supported by AIPAC - the pro-Israel umbrella group - and cosponsored many of them.  The bogus Iran sanctions charge is based on Republicans having voted as a bloc to reject Democratic procedural motions - motions whose only actual effect would be to torpedo unrelated legislation.  While it's ludicrous to claim Ryan opposed measures to strengthen Iran sanctions, some journalists who know better have given this meritless charge some credence.

Paul Ryan is callous to those less fortunate than himself and is generally indifferent to social justice.

This is perhaps the ugliest item on the list because it reflects the politics of personal destruction.  Rep. Ryan has articulately detailed and defended a view of social justice that is consistent with his Catholic faith and our common American tradition.  It shows the influence of his mentor, Jack Kemp who promoted an opportunity society in which government would be there to protect the weak and vulnerable while minimizing obstacles to individual flourishing.  People who are satisfied with our welfare state status quo are free to defend it, but they overreach when they presume that it is the only possible framework for taking care of those in need.  Given our inability to afford our current welfare state, they do the poor no favors when they lash out in personal terms at leaders like Paul Ryan who would reform it to better respond to our current challenges.

Another frequent claim is that Rep. Ryan is animated by Ayn Rand's ideas.  Rep. Ryan has cited Rand's novels as among the books that have influenced him.  So have many others from all points on the political spectrum.  Rep. Ryan has also made it clear that he rejects her atheism and 'objectivism,' diverging from her legacy on a fundamental ethical level.  Whatever the criticisms of his budget proposals, it's impossible to honestly portray the reformed government he envisions as a Randian utopia.