Gene Lyons: Paul Ryan doesn’t need facts
Back in my college days, a fellow from my hometown went around telling people he’d been an all-state high school football player. In reality, he’d been a benchwarmer. He was a big, strong kid, but you could watch him walk down the stairs and see he was no elite athlete.
People asked me about it, and I never knew what to say. We hadn’t particularly been friends in high school, but I had no wish to humiliate him. He was doing that all by himself. Oddly, most of our mutual friends were college football jocks who never believed his story for a minute.
Was it more funny or sad? I never decided. Other improbable tales followed. He eventually left school under a cloud, and I never learned how things turned out for him. All right, I hope. We were 19, for heaven’s sake.
Maybe you can guess where I’m going here. Is it more laughable or embarrassing that the Republican nominee for vice president of the United States is a 42-year-old guy who made inflated claims about his athletic prowess in the seeming belief that nobody would know the difference?
Rep. Paul Ryan’s boast was no idle slip of the tongue. It came during an extended interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, who asked about his distance running. Here’s the transcript:
HEWITT: But you did run marathons at some point?
RYAN: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
HEWITT: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
RYAN: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
HEWITT: Holy smokes!...
RYAN: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
Faced with an interlocutor who knew that he’d claimed an elite time, Ryan should have backed off immediately. Instead, he doubled-down. It wasn’t until Runner’s World documented that his actual recorded time was four hours and change that the candidate had to admit he wasn’t so fast, but distinctly average.
It was, of course, an accidental “misstatement.” His brother was said to be teasing him about it.
I’ll bet he was.
I wonder if they also talked about their hometown General Motors factory whose closing was announced before President Obama’s election?
Also, did you know that Rep. Ryan has this genius plan to balance the federal budget by sharply cutting Mitt Romney’s taxes? It’s called “Two Hours and Fifty-Something to Prosperity,” or something like that.
All the Irish-American cuties with the big eyes on the TV news networks call Ryan a “deficit hawk” because they haven’t done the arithmetic. The people who have charitably describe his scheme as a fantasy.
Even CNN’s Erin Burnett sensed there might be something vaguely amiss with Ryan’s big GOP convention speech. “There will be issues with some of the facts,” she conceded. “But it motivated people. He’s a man who says I care deeply about every single word ... And he delivered on that. Precise, clear and passionate.”
For example, Ryan passionately decried President Obama’s handling of the federal budget deficit. “He created a new bipartisan debt commission,” Ryan sneered. “They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.”
Precisely speaking, that would be the Simpson-Bowles commission, which never formally issued a report, urgent or otherwise. That’s because the Marathon Man himself led fellow GOP commissioners in voting against it. At the time Ryan explained — get a load of this — that Simpson-Bowles failed to include big enough Medicaid and Medicare cuts.
Remember that when he and Romney go around accusing President Obama of “looting” $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund. They promise to restore it, which should be easy, as the charge is false. Obamacare actually extends the trust fund’s life by reducing payments to insurance companies and hospitals (which agreed to the changes). Not cuts, savings.
Also remember that Ryan’s latest fantasy budget, which House Republicans supported unanimously, includes the selfsame Medicare spending reductions he denounces.
(Meanwhile, Romney goes around saying that Medicare savings will “depress innovation — and jobs — in medicine.” What? Government spending creates jobs? This is heresy. Anyway, no sweat, as the savings are being put to work supporting Obamacare.)
But back to Rep. Ryan’s big speech. In it, he also passionately denounced Obama for last summer’s (meaningless) Standard & Poor’s credit downgrade.
And guess why that happened? On CBS News, Scott Pelley read S&P’s explanation of its decision to Ryan’s face. It specifically stated that House Republicans’ absolute refusal to compromise on President Obama’s “Grand Bargain” had brought about fiscal paralysis.
The GOP leader, of course, was House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, who just kept on talking as if the CBS anchorman hadn’t spoken.
It’s well known that Ryan’s high school classmates elected him “Biggest Brown-Noser.” Too bad they had no “Biggest Bulls****er” contest.
Marathon Man would have retired the trophy.
Gene Lyons, Arkansas Times columnist, is at email@example.com.