The World According to Paul Ryan
He’s taking flak for just one tweet. Perhaps it’s a teachable moment.
Paul Ryan goofed.
The Wisconsin congressman and House Speaker posted a tweet noting that “A secretary at a public high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, said she was pleasantly surprised her pay went up $1.50 a week … she said [that] will more than cover her Costco membership for the year.” The anecdote came from an Associated Press story about paycheck increases under the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul championed by Ryan and Republicans.
In short order, Ryan was getting barbecued, as “lawmakers and social media users criticized him for appearing out of touch,” the New York Time reported. A secretary’s $78-a-year tax cut pales in comparison to the estimated annual gain of $11 million going to President Donald Trump under the new plan.
Ryan’s tweet, in short, was a boneheaded error, which he quickly realized, taking down the tweet within a few hours.
Except: he hasn’t apologized, offered any explanation, or admitted there was anything wrong with the tweet. What we actually have here is a gaffe, as famously defined by commentator Michael Kinsley: “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”
And how true to Ryan’s real views was this comment? The question gets to the heart of the enigma that is Paul Ryan.
This is a man who is famously feted by both Republican politicians and the media as a deep thinker, a politician who loves to talk policy and is one of the intellectual stars of his party. He is more a policy man than a politician, Ryan has often said. But where is the evidence of that?
In 19 years as a congressman, where is the legislation he has authored, the bills he has introduced, the policies he has championed? There are precious few examples of that.
Ryan’s reputation rests largely on his long-feted economic “road map” to address what he called the “looming entitlement crisis.” It was first released in 2008 and re-released in slightly revised versions several times after that. But his solution to the growing level of debt he predicted would arise from federal entitlements was to add $6 trillion more in debt over a decade or so, by slashing both the top individual tax rate and the corporate tax rate. Ryan’s allegedly wonkish paper actually specified no cuts in entitlements, but his massive debt would eventually require this.
That’s the general approach the federal tax plan Trump and Ryan have passed, though it is not nearly as outlandish and unfunded as Ryan’s road map. It slashes the corporate tax rate and more modestly lowers the top individual tax rate, while providing a relatively tiny tax cut for middle income taxpayers. It will thereby create a $1.7 trillion deficit over ten years, and leave the way open for Republicans to argue that federal entitlements — the lifeline for middle and lower-class Americans, particularly those who voted for Trump — must be slashed.
This has always been Ryan’s goal. He is a huge fan of crackpot novelist Ayn Rand, whose Atlas Shrugged portrayed average Americans as blood suckers leeching off the talent and riches of the country’s upper class and intelligentsia. Ryan has credited Rand with having inspired him to get involved in public service and once gave a speech to the Atlas Society, dedicated to Rand, noting that “he grew up reading Rand, and that her books taught him about his value system and beliefs,” and that he “required staffers and interns in his congressional office to read Rand.”
Ryan has described Social Security as a “Socialist-based system” and has supported cuts to welfare, child care, Pell Grants for low-income college students, food stamps, and other federal assistance programs, and privatizing Social Security and Medicare. His push for less help for the middle class and less taxes for the wealthy also happens to benefit him personally.
Mostly due to his wife’s wealth, Ryan is a member of the 1 percent, with an estimated net worth of $6.5 million, making him the 34th wealthiest member of the House of Representatives. His current pay as House Speaker, of $223,500, plus the likely earnings from his investments, would mean he gains at least a $6,560 tax cut from the newly passed plan, but it could be as high as $21,240.
In short, Ryan will get a tax break that is 84 to 272 times higher than the secretary whose tiny gain he was touting. The tax plan exacerbates the wealth gap in America, leaving lower and middle class Americans even further behind wealthy people like Donald Trump and Paul Ryan. Yet it is something to celebrate for Ryan. After all, it is the essence of Ayn Rand, whose adulation of the rich was his inspiration for public service.
So yes, Ryan’s comment was a gaffe, a startling moment of truth from him.
Correction: an early version of this story reported — incorrectly — that the furor over Ryan’s tweet was not covered by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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