What is wrong with Paul Ryan?

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the increasingly unhinged chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a fascinating sense of timing.

This morning, news consumers woke up to news that the Congressional Budget Office has found that the “top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades,” while incomes have stagnated for the working classes. Much of this, the CBO found, is the result of conservative government policies that are deliberately less redistributive than the policies of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, when the class gap was far less extreme.

At the same time, news consumers also got a look this morning at the latest public attitudes on economic policy. As it turns out, the American mainstream strongly supports economic populism, including higher taxes on the wealthy, more public investment in job creation, and in general, policies that would ensure that American wealth is “more evenly distributed among more people.”

It was against this backdrop that Ryan, the Ayn Rand-loving “class warrior for the wealthy,” fresh off his failed campaign to eliminate Medicare altogether, decided to throw a tantrum at the Heritage Foundation this morning.

House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) took direct aim at President Barack Obama in a speech Wednesday morning, accusing him of “preying on the emotions of fear, envy and resentment” as he travels the country to sell his jobs plan.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Ryan said Obama’s method of rallying public support for his $447 billion jobs package was “sowing social unrest and class resentment” and could be “just as damaging as his misguided policies.”

“Instead of working together where we agree, the president has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past,” Ryan said…. Ryan accused Obama of using “class-based rhetoric” in his re-election campaign. Obama’s tactics, he said, make “America weaker, not stronger.”

“Instead of appealing to the hope and optimism that were the hallmarks of his first campaign, he has launched his second campaign by preying on the emotions of fear, envy, and resentment,” Ryan said.

If Paul Ryan were half as smart as he thinks he is, his arguments might be worth paying more attention to. Instead, his harangue this morning bordered on pathetic. If merit mattered more in American politics, this speech would mark the turning point at which Ryan transitioned from media darling to laughing stock.

I had a grand idea about grabbing a scalpel and going through Ryan’s most offensive errors of fact and judgment, but Greg Sargent beat me to it. Please read his post. No, seriously, go read it, then come back.

The part that just about made my head explode was when Ryan, a charlatan whose numbers have never added up, accused President Obama of “intellectually lazy arguments.” After picking my jaw up off the floor, I learned that an example of an “intellectually lazy argument” is recommending popular tax increases on the wealthy to help reduce the Republican-created deficit and create jobs.

I also loved the notion that Ryan wants to see Obama be “hopeful” the way he was in 2008 — when Obama won easily running on a platform of higher taxes on everyone making over $250,000.

I’ll resist the temptation to highlight every ridiculous point from Ryan’s speech, but I was especially amazed by the lawmaker taking offense after the mean ol’ president offered mild criticism of the GOP. From Ryan’s speech:

“Just last week, the President told a crowd in North Carolina that Republicans are in favor of, ‘dirtier air, dirtier water, and less people with health insurance.’ Can you think of a pettier way to describe sincere disagreements between the two parties on regulation and health care?”

Does he even listen to himself? What the president said last week was true. Congressional Republicans make no effort to hide the fact that they want to gut the health care system and take away health care coverage for tens of millions of people. That’s their agenda; it’s not a secret. Likewise, GOP officials insist that one of the best ways to boost the economy is to prohibit the EPA from enforcing clean air and clean water regulations. That, again, is a simple recitation of what Republicans say they want.

What’s more petty? Obama telling voters the truth or Paul Ryan whining about it?

Some of Ryan’s speech was demonstrably wrong — at one point, he insisted a “flat tax is a progressive effective tax” — some of it was a rehash of tired cliches, and some was an angry conservative pretending to take offense. All of it, meanwhile, offered a defense of a twisted and regressive ideology that demands policymakers do even more to protect millionaires and billionaires from taxes, consequences, and responsibilities.

The New Republic recently explained that Ryan is “Washington’s idea of A Very Serious Person — an earnest individual with a systematic plan. It doesn’t have to be a good plan, but, if it has enough charts and numbers, and is accompanied by some patronizing finger-wagging, it’s golden. Ryan is in fact a slightly creepy Ayn Rand enthusiast seeking to impose a radical right-wing agenda on the country, but his doeish eyes and his Midwestern vintage convinced a rapt press corps that he is the ideas man in this age of budgetary woe. There is probably no public perception more deserving of a major revision.”

The man is one part crackpot, one part con man. The sooner the political world realizes this, the better.