Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Paul Ryan Enters a Brave, New, Fact-Filled World

When Paul Ryan was chosen as Romney's VP, I had a small hope that all the exposure would mess up his brand if Romney lost, and he would taint the teflon brand he carries in DC circles.

Well, it happened in a different way than I had imagined, but Paul Ryan lied so much and so blatantly during his convention speech that the media basically had to take notice. Jonathan Chait nails this exactly:

A week ago, Paul Ryan’s political assets included — alongside his chiseled torso, plainspoken Midwestern demeanor, and the unshakable loyalty of the entire Republican Party — a firm reputation for honesty among the mainstream media. That reputation has suffered a massive, swift erosion. News stories about his speech at the Republican National Convention focused on its many rhetorical sleights of hand. Over the weekend, the revelation that he dramatically misstated a marathon time added a crucial, accessible piece of evidence to the indictment. Now liberals are calling him “Lyin’ Ryan” — a nickname that, a few weeks ago, would have seemed silly, like “Wimpy Palin.” Now mainstream pundits are defending Ryan with versions of the “well, all politicians fib” defense. Given that this constituency was once portraying Ryan as unusually honest, this represents a huge retreat for his political brand.

What happened?

Here’s what has not happened: Paul Ryan did not begin telling an unprecedented series of lies that suddenly exposed a predilection for shading the truth. His marathon boast is certainly odd and may well be a deliberate lie, but it could also be a simple failure to recall. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson, arguing for the prosecution, contends that “for someone who does run seriously,” missing a marathon time by as a vast a level as Ryan does is nearly impossible. On the other hand, given that the race occurred in 1990 and was Ryan’s only marathon, perhaps the explanation is that Ryan just isn’t a serious runner.
And Ryan’s Tampa speech, while pretty dishonest, was not especially so by Ryan’s standards. Here you can see why Ryan must view the sudden attack of the truth squad so bewilderingly. Ryan has been saying things like this, and worse, all along. The bit where he sadly shakes his head and blames President Obama for the failure of the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission that Ryan killed himself has been a staple of the Ryan shtick for two years. Reporters usually bat their eyes and coo sympathetically. Now it has become evidence of his duplicity .
Ryan seems to have fallen victim to circumstances he didn’t quite foresee. The Romney campaign has spent the last several weeks practically daring the national press corps to call out its lies. Well beyond the usual exaggerations of a national campaign, Romney has built its entire message around two accusations — “you didn’t build that” and “just send them a check” — that are obviously false. A day before Ryan’s speech, a Romney adviser told reporters, “We're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” The media that had spent the last two and a half years nuzzling gently in Ryan’s lap had been prodded with sharp sticks and reacted in the predictable fashion, though probably not predictable to Ryan himself.

The thing about Ryan is that he has always resided in a counter-factual universe. He is a product of the hermetically sealed right-wing subculture. Many of the facts taken for granted by mainstream economists have never penetrated his brain. Ryan burst onto the national scene with a dense, fact-laden attack on the financing of Obama’s health-care bill that was essentially a series of hallucinations, pseudo-facts cooked up and recirculated by conservative apparatchiks who didn’t know what they were talking about or didn’t care. His big-think speeches reflect the influence of fact-free conservatives and collapse under scrutiny.
The Romney campaign and Ryan were essentially engaged in a game of chicken with anyone covering the election, daring them to call out their bullshit. They may have pushed it to far, in the sense that Ryan's speech was so over the top that some mainstream media people had to point out the truthiness of most claims.

Ryan's case is also awesome because it really is what happens when you get a creation of the fact free right wing echo chamber and place them in the wild. Because of this, he has gotten used to lying with reckless abandon, and having those lies re-enforced rather than challenged at any point. Unlike Palin, he is an articulate white male that many of the beltway media have built up into this super serious budget savant, so they may not tear him down completely and turn him into a punchline in the same way, but acknowledging that he's not telling the truth is a big first step. We have a really really crappy political media, and no matter how basic, pointing out that someone is lying is a pretty big deal for them, and it should be commended.


  1. I swoon a little when you guys use the phrase "articulate white male."

    While I agree this signals growth by the media I'm not sure we should commend people for doing what was once their job. That being said I'm amazed Ryan's been called out on fibbing at all, and I'll take what I can get. The man can't be trusted. Lying about something as insignificant as a marathon time? Come on Ryan, you can do better.

    1. Yeah, you're right, I was more surprised than anything. Like John Chait said, for those of us who have followed Ryan, it's not like he said anything out of the ordinary in his convention speech.