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There’s no better anecdote to sum up Paul Ryan’s career in politics — masquerade as an advocate for poor people for the chance to pass policies that would hurt them most. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

There’s no better anecdote to sum up Paul Ryan’s career in politics — masquerade as an advocate for poor people for the chance to pass policies that would hurt them most. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/cc)

Paul Ryan Only Ever Cared About the Rich

The outgoing House speaker was once celebrated as a 'serious' wonk. Now it's clear his politics are just as cruel as Trump's

Negin Owliaei

 by Inequality.org

It feels like a million years have passed since Paul Ryan was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. But a story from back then speaks volumes about his legacy today.

On the campaign trail, Ryan took some heat for “ramrodding” his way into an Ohio soup kitchen — without permission — for a staged photo op. All the patrons had been served and the kitchen had been cleaned, so the Romney team snapped some pictures of Ryan washing a couple dishes. They left after 15 minutes.

There’s no better anecdote to sum up Paul Ryan’s career in politics — masquerade as an advocate for poor people for the chance to pass policies that would hurt them most.

Still, Ryan managed to cement a reputation as a “deficit hawk,” as an earnest but ultimately compassionate policy wonk making the shrewd budget choices that would allow people across the country to prosper. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

Ryan managed to cement a reputation as a “deficit hawk,” as an earnest but ultimately compassionate policy wonk making the shrewd budget choices that would allow people across the country to prosper. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

There is, of course, the issue of Ryan’s obvious hypocrisy on the national debt. The 2018 deficit ballooned under his supposedly watchful eye, thanks in large part to the disastrous tax cuts passed last year.

But it wouldn’t be fair to the millions of people harmed by Ryan’s political choices to assess his legacy based on his faux concern over the federal budget alone.

Time after time, Ryan has let his “moderate” mask slip to show the real motives for his policies — to further enrich the wealthy while pretending to have the poor’s interest at heart. He adopted the mantle of fiscal responsibility to advocate slashing social programs designed to protect the most vulnerable, while offering bigger and bigger handouts to the wealthiest.

Take those tax cuts. Just months after they passed, Ryan tried his hand at selling the hugely unpopular legislation to the American public by tweeting about a Pennsylvania secretary receiving an extra $1.50 a week in her paycheck.

How much do, say, the Koch brothers stand to gain from that bill? $1.4 billion a year, as Americans for Tax Fairness pointed out.

Look at the so-called “opportunity zones” embedded in that same tax bill, which Ryan calls a critical part of his “poverty fighting agenda.” Ryan said he’d spent years trying to enact these tax breaks for developers building in low-income communities. But it’s a recipe for increased gentrification that could displace the very low-income people Ryan promises they’ll help. Goldman Sachs is already reaping the benefits.

And then there’s the time he misappropriated the story of a homeless young boy to argue against free school lunch programs, of all things, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee. “What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul,” Ryan said in 2014 about people arguing for the very basics of a social safety net.

As Trump wages his war against migrants, sexual assault survivors, and the poor, writers and analysts have pointed out that the spectacle of cruelty is at the heart of his politics. Ryan and his ilk have rightfully been criticized for enabling Trump, but being painted as a spineless coward is his best-case scenario of a legacy.

This is a man who casually noted that he’d dreamt about capping Medicaid since he was drinking out of kegs. He said he personally rejects a ban on Muslims coming into the United States, but then supported Trump’s executive order to do just that.

Ryan had no problem telling the country Trump’s “heart’s in the right place” just weeks after his racist reaction to the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where Heather Heyer was killed.

Cruelty has always been the point for Paul Ryan, too.

At one time, Ryan’s viciousness seemed literally unimaginable to some members of the American public.

The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA asked a focus group about a proposed Ryan proposed budget back in 2012, letting them know that he wanted to defund programs specifically meant to help low-income people while slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Participants “simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing,” the New York Times reported.

That was in 2012. Now, in 2018, as a politics of cruelty becomes more and more commonplace, we owe it to ourselves to be honest about the true intentions of Paul Ryan and the people like him who mask their ill intentions with wonky language.

The charade’s up. Good riddance. 


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Negin Owliaei

Negin Owliaei

Negin Owliaei is a co-editor and researcher at IPS's Inequality.org. Before joining IPS, she worked as a journalist and digital producer at Al Jazeera Media Network, where she covered social movements and the internet for the award-winning program The Stream.

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