That lyin' Paul Ryan
After the GOP Convention, it’s hard to tell truth from political rhetoric
By Barry Gordon 09/03/2012
As a professor who has taught courses in politics and the media, I have seen and commented on the ridiculous distortions that occur during every political campaign from both parties. Of course, the preferred word these days is “spin,” a far more innocuous way of describing political rhetoric that, shall we say, “stretches” the truth. I thought I had seen it all. And then there was Tampa.
The Republican Convention of 2012, more than any I have seen in over a half-century of convention viewing, was virtually founded on lies about Barack Obama and his policies. Not interpretations, not exaggerations, just good old-fashioned fact-checkable lies.
The premise of one entire evening was built on a lie — the idea that Obama really ever meant, in his infamous “you didn’t build that” speech, that entrepreneurs could not take credit for their own hard work and ingenuity. Anyone with half a brain who listened to the entire speech knew that “that” referred back to his description of the American system of roads and bridges and now the Internet. To turn a possibly inartful juxtaposition of words into a major theme of a political convention, not to mention a boon to the Republican swag industry, is either incredibly silly or frighteningly deceptive.
Then there’s the ongoing lie about Obama’s executive order to “gut” work requirements for welfare reform. The irony is that the only gutting that could happen would be under the governors, many of them Republicans, who asked for greater flexibility. Furthermore, the order states unequivocally that its purpose is to “allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.” Does that sound like a “gutting” of work requirements?
And, of course, there was Paul Ryan’s opus, a speech that FOX News reporter Sally Kohn labeled “an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.” I don’t know if it will win the award for most lies but it certainly has to take the prize for sheer chutzpah. You’ve got to give credit to a guy who can blame Obama for the closing of a plant that closed before he took office, for not supporting the debt commission Ryan himself voted against, for making cuts to Medicare overpayments to providers that he himself proposed in his budget, and for creating the debt ceiling crisis singlehandedly, ignoring the months of Republican obstructionism that certainly added to Wall Street’s nervousness. All of these lies were carefully dissected on FOX News’s own Web site. If anyone deserves a medal, Sally Kohn should get one for bravery.
Beyond that, there were far more subtle lies, both implicit and explicit, on display. One was the underlying theme that, but for Obama, we would somehow be living in a land as picturesque as that painted by Norman Rockwell in the first half of the 20th century. Romney referred to “the new business opening downtown” or the worker who used to have a job paying $22.50 an hour who now was working two jobs at $9 an hour to make ends meet, with the word “now” presumably referring to anything post-January 2009. The truth is a bit more complicated.
The $22.50 an hour job probably disappeared years ago as the result of corporate downsizing or off-shoring. The new business opening downtown is most likely not a mom-and-pop stationery store but a Staples franchise. The fading away of well-paying jobs didn’t just happen three years ago — more like 30. And if we’ve destroyed most of our manufacturing base, replaced good jobs with lower-paying service sector jobs, and replaced full-time job security with part-time and temp work, that’s much less due to Obama’s brief time on the watch and is far more attributable to the bottom-line, short-term thinking of people anxious to make a quick profit who force companies to pile up debt, often leading to layoffs of hundreds of workers just to maintain the interest payments and provide big dividend checks to investors. People like … Mitt Romney.
Perhaps the biggest lie of all was the contention, made by both Romney and Ryan, that they really wanted President Obama to succeed, that they were willing partners just waiting for him to reach a hand of genuine friendship across the aisle. Not quite. According to Robert Draper’s “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” a meeting of 15 Republican stalwarts, including Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz and (wait for it) Paul Ryan, came up with a three-point plan over dinner on the night of the inauguration. Their plan was to discredit Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner, offer “united and unyielding opposition” to every economic policy initiative coming from the White House and begin its assault on congressional Democrats with a barrage of attack ads. As California Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy put it, “We’ve got to challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”
So much for wanting Obama to succeed.
It may be that no one knows how to tell or even recognize the truth anymore. But I hope not. The Democrats this week have a chance to show America and the world that political rhetoric doesn’t have to be as empty as Clint Eastwood’s chair.
Barry Gordon is an adjunct professor at Cal State LA.