I've seen a lot of things in my years covering politics, but I have certainly not witnessed anything that compares to Paul Ryan. Rarely do I expect politicians to tell the truth, but it took me a full week to compile, research, digest and expound on the mountain of falsehoods the VP candidate levied in less than an hour during his speech at the RNC. In return, Ryan was praised as charismatic, intelligent, articulate and even electrifying. The fact that almost none of the words he uttered were true didn't seem to matter to most people, and I think Americans should find that very troubling.
Ryan set the tone for the evening when he repeated a lie that had already been so thoroughly debunked that it's not possible to argue it was another oversight: the GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, WI, which he laid at the President's feet, though it closed while President Bush was in office. What's worse, Congressman Ryan actually asked for federal spending to save the plant! Mitt Romney has routinely criticized the auto industry bailout that President Obama later enacted to prevent other plants from closing. But never mind those glaring contradictions, they tell us – just assume it's proof of the other guy's failure.
Ryan also repeated the baloney line about the President gutting Medicare to pay for the Affordable Care Act. Romney reinforced this, though it too had been debunked time and again, by pointing out that the President's $716 billion figure was in slowing the growth of Medicare payments by reducing the subsidy to private insurers on Advantage plans and the increases in payments to providers – something Ryan himself included in his budget that Romney supported!
The Congressman then attacked the President for sitting on the recommendations of a bipartisan presidential commission (Simpson-Bowles) advising on how to reduce the federal budget deficit. Ryan, who was a commission member, actually helped to block the recommendations, which needed to be approved by a super-majority of 14 to even be taken up by Congress!
Not getting laughed off the stage as a second-rate hack apparently emboldened Congressman Ryan, who then blamed President Obama for the lowering of the United States’ credit rating from AAA to AA by S&P, back in August 2011. Ryan said in his speech that Obama’s presidency “began with a perfect Triple-A credit rating for the United States; it ends with a downgraded America.”
Standard & Poor lowered the rating after Congress – led by people like Ryan – played their game of chicken with the debt ceiling vote, threatening to not authorize payment on spending they already approved. It was a dumb, irresponsible and deliberate political move that put partisan politics above the welfare of our economy and the world's faith in our currency, and therefore not something you get to use as supposed proof that someone else screwed up.
Then there's the completely fabricated myth Romney and Ryan are perpetuating, which says President Obama gutted Welfare to Work regulations, which was also thoroughly debunked, yet repeated on the trail and in TV ads. Responding to pressure from mostly Republican governors who have complained that Clinton-era welfare reforms left states with too little flexibility, while spending too much time and money dealing with paperwork, the President delivered a streamlined process that gives states more ability to customize implementation, while leaving virtually no room for skirting the regulations themselves.
Mitt Romney knows this, because in 2005, while Governor of Massachusetts, he himself requested such changes. But Romney and Ryan know that accusing an African-American Democratic President of making it easier for people to stay on Welfare will play to what is unfortunately becoming a greater and greater portion of the party's base – voters who aren't really interested in whether or not such claims are true.
This is the foundation of the Romney/Ryan ticket – a litany of falsehoods designed to play to the lowest common denominator and deflect reality at every turn. They are consistently asking their audience for the sort of willful suspense of disbelief that one takes into a science fiction movie. Otherwise, they're confronted with the startling realization that as bad as they hate the guy in the White House, these guys simply aren't who they say they are.
Since 2001, Ryan, the proclaimed heart of the fiscal conservative wing of the party, has voted for at least 65 separate pieces of deficit and national debt-increasing legislation, amounting to a staggering $6.8 trillion in cumulative deficits. He entered Congress the same year that a Clinton budget produced our last surplus and has voted for 8 out of every 10 pieces of legislation that has since turned that into a massive deficit, including blank checks for both unfunded wars. His own plan, hailed as some sort of conservative manifesto, would add over $6 trillion in new debt in the next decade alone and wouldn't balance the budget until the 42-year old Congressman was pushing 70! Is that less expensive than President Obama's budget: yes. Does it qualify him as a fiscal conservative: are you kidding me? The Congressional Progressive Caucus' budget proposal balances in less than half the time.
There are too many contradictions to make even the slightest sense, so the duo of Romney and Ryan just seem to assert that whatever the President did was wrong and then make up faux proof and just keep repeating it until it sticks with their base. That might be good politics, if only in certain circles, but it's a poor argument for leadership which is what they ought to be promoting. What started as a promising convention, if only because the party had taken Jeb Bush's advice to tone down the message on cultural issues, quickly devolved into a parade of empty suits, spouting the same old empty rhetoric.
It's not hard to see why. The GOP platform is a patch quilt of red meat promises that range from their standard talking points to the tin-foil hat wearing abyss, a demographic which they unfortunately need to grab more and more of as the minority population of the country swells, while they continue to alienate it. So you get nods to fetal personhood, anti-Sharia law and even Agenda 21, sprinkled over the standard promises to slash taxes on the rich, gut regulations, close the borders, discriminate against homosexuals and magically bring back cheap gas. When that's not enough, people like Romney and Ryan apparently think that it's fair game to simply say the opposite of that which is so, and if the people are dumb enough to buy it, then shame on them.
There's been much made of likeability in this election cycle and the overwhelming obstacle it's been for Romney when compared to the President, who leads him by 20 points on that question. Analysts have wondered whether it was his enormous wealth, having been born into privilege, or even his religious beliefs that made it so hard for most Americans to say that they liked Mitt Romney or trusted that he cared as much about average Americans as President Obama does. I'm going to suggest that it's his unwavering ability to look the American people in the eye and say things that he knows to be untrue – and to stand by while his running mate does the same.
To elect someone President of the United States is to entrust them with the ability to enact profound change not only on our nation, but the entire world. It confers an enormous amount of faith in not only their decency, but their intentions. Mitt Romney has no one but himself to blame that a majority of Americans express discomfort with those questions. He has been on both sides of nearly every issue from reproductive rights, to universal healthcare, to taxes, to global warming and the minimum wage. His offshore accounts and opaque finances raise serious questions about whether his concern for our nation extend to his own personal obligations to its treasury.
So when he demonstrates a penchant for deliberately misleading those whom he wishes to persuade, it smacks of the sort of arrogance which suggests his subjects aren't worthy of the truth, lest it confuse them, a la Walter Lippman's trampling herd. It also smacks of fascism, and the propaganda that enables it. It's said that Paul Ryan's favorite book is Atlas Shrugged, but he and Romney seem to be reading up on Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World, both of which involve state leaders carrying out deliberate disinformation to an extreme, by repeating lies over and over until the indoctrinated no longer bother questioning that which they've been told by the elite.
Romney and Ryan will get the birther vote, they'll get the single-issue reproductive rights vote, they'll get the discriminate-against-gays vote, the close-our-borders vote, the drill-baby-drill vote (even though production is at a historic high, foreign oil dependence is down 18 percent since 2005 and gas is still approaching $4 gallon), the don't raise my taxes under any circumstances whatsoever vote, the dump-anything-in-my-water vote and the get rid of Social Security, while doing nothing about healthcare vote. But the fact that it looks unlikely there exists a path to 270 electoral votes, even with that coalition, might be the most comforting thing you can say about our country in these troubled times. Elections are supposed to be a competition of ideas contested through open and honest debate – not a competition of who can mislead the larger amount of voters.