It fell to Mitch McConnell, arguably the lousiest public speaker ever to practice the political craft, to sum up everything that can or should be said about the Republican National convention.
Opening the “We Can Change It” themed second night of the convention with a call to remove President Obama, the Senate minority leader declared that it was time to put “Mitt Ryan” in charge of the republic.
He just said what everyone at the convention seemed to be thinking: Wouldn’t it be cool if Paul Ryan was topping the ticket?
Republicans did everything they could during the long campaign for the party’s 2012 nomination to signal that they wanted Anyone But Romney. They got themselves all excited about Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich (seriously). They even voted for Rick Santorum, again and again and again. The Ron Paul people never gave up.
When all was said and done, Romney’s money bought him the nod. That did not mean, however, that Republicans ever could or would come to love him.
But they do love Paul Ryan.
On the floor of the Tampa convention hall, as the moment of the congressman from Wisconsin’s address approached, the delegates could not help themselves.
“I’m feeling like it’s 1980,” New York Republican Party chairman Ed Cox told me just minutes before Ryan spoke. “Just like 1980, with Reagan.”
Why? “I’ve felt it since Paul Ryan came on the ticket.”
A few feet away, the godmother of Republican social conservatism, Phyllis Schlafly pronounced herself “very satisfied” with the ticket.
Why? “I really like Paul Ryan.”
And so it was, delegation to delegation, section to section, across the hall where Republicans gathered for their fortieth national convention.
A month ago, Mitt Romney looked like a loser. And even if the GOP ticket is not exactly soaring in the polls, Republican spirits have been soaring since Ryan was added to the ticket.
Why? Because Paul Ryan isn’t just, as Ed Cox suggests, rather Reaganesque in looks and demeanor. He’s rather Reaganesque in his approach to reality.
Ryan does not speak hard truths. He tells Republicans stories that they like to hear. Even if they are not true.
Ryan began the most-anticipated address of the convention with a biographical soliloquy that referenced his factory-town roots in Janesville, Wisconsin.
“President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two. Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account. My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory,” Ryan told the convention.
“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you.… this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008,” continued Ryan. “Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”
True. Obama spoke the words that Ryan quoted. But Ryan’s clear suggestion that Obama—or his policies—had something to do with the plant closure was a lie.
The government that was not there to support the Janesville workers was the administration of George W. Bush. GM announced and implemented the closure of the plant during Bush’s presidency.
When a newly elected President Obama rushed to save the domestic auto industry, and perhaps to renew the prospects of shuttered plants like the one in Janesville, the man whose campaign Ryan is now propping up wrote an op-ed titled “Let Detroit [and, presumably Janesville] Go Bankrupt.”
And since we’re on the subject of government failing the workers in Paul Ryan’s hometown, surely it is relevant to bring up the congressman’s repeated votes for free-trade agreements that members of Janesville’s United Auto Workers Local 95 warned would undermine and ultimately shutter their workplace.
A man who would use his hometown as a prop and then try to deceive the country about the causes of its circumstance has a certain appeal to Republican delegates who cut their political teeth making the case for trickle-down economics and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Ryan actually pushed the envelope, peddling new fantasies, like the spin that says: “Obamacare comes to more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines that have no place in a free country.”
This will come to news as news to Britain, Canada, Germany and other American allies that somehow keep the light of liberty shining even as they guarantee all citizens access to quality healthcare.
Come to think of it, there are quite a few rules associated with Medicare. Yet Ryan—who has for years championed the radical deconstruction of the program—came off like Lyndon Johnson’s long-lost twin Wednesday night, as he preached no compromise in the defense of a government-organized healthcare system.
To hear Ryan tell it, “The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it.”
That’s a reprise of the universally discredited claim that the Affordable Care Act robs Medicare to pay for “Obamacare.” In fact, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Kaiser Family Health Foundation there will be no benefit cuts to Medicare as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.
Spending for Medicare will rise. True, the rate of increase in spending will slow. But explains an ABC News Fact-Check of the claim Ryan repeated Wednesday night notes that: “CMS says—and Kaiser agrees—that [the rate of increased] spending will be reduced by getting rid of fraud and ending overpayments to private insurance companies. It sends a message to those insurance companies: Operate more efficiently. And instead of cuts, the CMS says they will be able to fund new benefits, including free preventive care and broader prescription coverage, including closing the ‘doughnut hole’ affecting seniors.”
That fact-check—along with many others—was published more than a month before Ryan was tapped by Romney as his vice-presidential running mate.
Ryan had to know he was deceiving the American people when he and the Romney team prepared his speech.
But the “deficit hawk” congressman who voted for two unfunded wars, a budget-busting prescription drug plan that steered billions into the accounts of Big Pharma, and the bank bailout of 2008 made his choice long ago. He’s not going to level with the American people. He’s going to try to make them believe things that are not true.
The biggest Ryan fantasy is the austerity lie: the one that says the wealthiest country in the world is going broke because some children are educated, some sick people are cared for and most old people are afforded a measure of retirement security. As lies go, it’s an effective one. Most of the delegates to this year’s Republican National Convention certainly seem to believe it.
But the reality that Paul Ryan would do anything to avoid is this. If the Wall Street speculators, bankers and CEOs who have contributed millions to Paul Ryan’s congressional campaigns would simply pay their fair share of taxes, if American assets were not off-shored to tax havens, if American jobs were not sacrificed in a free-trade driven race to the bottom, the country’s fiscal fortunes would be entirely different.
The man who claims to offer “good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems” is just another fiscal fabulist.
That’s exactly what the delegates to this year’s Republican National Convention wanted. And that’s why Paul Ryan’s speech was such a hit.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t true.