The New Paul Ryan
In his efforts to separate himself from Mitt Romney, Ryan has provided some scary insights into his politics.
Last year we were introduced to the new Paul Ryan, the compassionate Republican who was traveling the country visiting inner city neighborhoods and looking for solutions to urban poverty. As a story in the Washington Post noted, the Wisconsin Congressman and 2012 GOP candidate for vice-president had been “mortified” by the infamous remarks of his running mate Mitt Romney suggesting 47 percent of Americans saw themselves as “victims,” “dependent upon government” and unwilling to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
“I think he was embarrassed,” Robert Woodson, who runs the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said of Ryan. “And it propelled him to deepen his own understanding of this.”
Because Romney’s campaign advisors had so constrained his running mate, the Post was told, “you didn’t get the full Ryan.” Now we would see his compassion shine through.
But in his March 6 speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference, Ryan offered a preposterous story that seemed to undercut his newly refashioned image. The touching tale of the little poor boy who didn’t want a free school meal and instead wanted a brown bag lunch because it showed he had “someone who cared for him” turned out to be completely untrue. The source of the story, Eloise Anderson (a cabinet member in the administration of Gov. Scott Walker) admitted she knew of no such boy, and the story was from a book which made no mention of free school lunches and whose author actually opposes cutting the program. The Washington Post fact checker gave Ryan’s speech four pinocchios.
In Ryan’s home town, which he still represents as a congressman, some 52 percent of students in the Janesville School District, or 5,385 of 10,322 students, are certified for free and reduced price school lunches, according to state statistics. Instead of Romney’s 47 percent, Ryan seems to substituting a higher number of children whose parents are “victims” that are “dependent upon government” and unwilling to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Ryan also represents Racine, Kenosha and Walworth, where 36,275 of 75,604 public school students, or 48 percent, are so unloved by their parents that their free or reduced price lunches are subsidized by taxpayers.
It’s rare to see a politician so blithely slander such a huge number of his constituents. Ryan’s district, while it was redistricted to make it more Republican-leaning, still includes classic Rustbelt cities like Janesville and Racine, which were hammered by the Great Recession and naturally became more dependent on government assistance.
Statewide the number of Food Stamp recipients more than doubled from 2007 to 2011, from about 580,000 in 2007 to nearly 1.1 million in 2011, as an April 2012 Legislative Audit Bureau Report found. The report suggests economic recession was a key cause, noting the rise in recipients paralleled the rise in the rate of unemployment.
While the increase by county was not computed, the number of people eligible for food stamps in Ryan’s district is substantial, including 35,131 in Racine County, 30,154 in Kenosha County and 12,367 in Walworth County, state statistics show.
Many of these recipients are children, the elderly or disabled, but 28 percent of adult recipients are employed and another 24 percent are unemployed and looking for work, statistics from the USDA show.
The reality is that many jobs pay so little that workers must seek food stamps and other assistance. As Bloomberg News put it, “the two biggest welfare queens in America today are Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.” The story noted that American fast food workers receive more than $7 billion dollars in public assistance.
An increasing number of conservatives support raising the minimum wage, which would help fast food workers earn more (and reduce government assistance to them), but Ryan opposes this.
Yet Ryan also wants to slash food stamps that help support these minimum wage workers. His refashioned long-term budget plan released last year included “cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) of $135 billion — almost 18 percent — over the next ten years (2014-2023).”
Ryan’s proposal helped push Republicans to demand reductions in SNAP as part of the bipartisan congressional bill passed in February, which ultimately cut such funding by nearly $9 billion.
For that matter, Romney’s campaign platform was heavily influenced by Ryan’s budgetary road map for America. Ryan wasn’t really at odds with Romney’s policies, he was embarrassed by Romney’s gaffe and how it gave the game away.
Ryan’s brown bag speech, while less flagrant, was just as revealing. And one week later he was quoted on the radio talk show of conservative host Bill Bennett saying this: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.”
Once again Ryan seemed to be slandering a large number of his constituents, in poor neighborhoods of cities like Racine and Janesville (not to mention nearby Beloit, which he used to represent). His comment caused yet another controversy, and Ryan reacted by promising to meet with the Congressional Black Caucus and backing off from his comment, saying he was “inarticulate” in how he phrased his point.
The curious thing about these two gaffes is that Republicans and many in the media laud Ryan as one of the smartest and most thoughtful members of his party. Ryan is anything but inarticulate and his statements of late seem like a classic tell in a poker game, telling us what he really thinks. Like Romney, he has simply written off huge numbers of Americans as pathetic “victims,” including the working poor, who need government help to support their family, and the parents of more than half the public school students in his home town, who depend on subsidized lunches. The New Paul Ryan is exactly like the old one, with the same heartless views and policies.