Paul Ryan: The Audacity of Hype

A warning to those who went to bed early last night or otherwise occupied yourself during the Republican National Convention: you are going to hear and read a lot today about the oratorical brilliance of Paul Ryan. His speech was a combo platter of, well, platitudes and then attacks on Barack Obama; you would not know from listening to it that the man was the author of a federal budget proposal that is essentially the entire domestic agenda of the Republican Party (give or take a few efforts to ban abortion, resist marriage equality, and suppress votes), since he didn’t mention it. But that’s why the delegates cheered him with such great enthusiasm: they know how dangerous and ideologically edgy he is, and were undoubtedly relieved he got through a major speech by posing as an up-from-poverty orphan whose main motive in public life is to honor his mom by fighting to protect Medicare.

The most essential reading on the speech was done quickly last night by TNR’s Jon Cohn, who cataloged its five biggest lies.

But that’s about the speech’s sins of commission: it’s the sins of omission that really bother me. Charles Pierce, who labels Ryan as the Newest Nixon, nicely captured what Ryan did not say and the deep contradiction his record poses to what he did say:

He knows what he believes, and he believes it with the sincere faith of a true fanatic, but he also knows that demonstrating that faith in public would be a quick way to a career in the private sector. So he turns on his limitless reservoir of greasy charm and sells exactly the opposite.

Of all his sins of omission, I thought this most significant: a man whose budget proposal essentially funds large new upper-end tax cuts by ravaging every mandatory, discretionary, and tax-code-based policy helping the poor did not deign to mention people living in poverty, other than his own fatuous efforts to make himself look like a poor boy because of the menial jobs he did in college. There was a half-sentence reference right at the end to the “responsibility of the strong to protect the weak,” but I am reliably informed that this is probably a dog-whistle about “the unborn” rather than the poor.

The frustrating thing, of course, is that this was the first real glimpse many voters have had of Paul Ryan, and while the people in the hall knew and loved him as the man who is determined to take down the New Deal and Great Society and ban all abortions, his audacious evasion in the speech of everything controversial about his record and his agenda certainly presented a different persona. In a conversation with Paul Glastris this morning, he mentioned that when looking at Paul Ryan last night he kept seeing the face of Eddie Haskell. That’s exactly right: he’s the nasty piece of work who unctuously pretends to be someone else entirely when he need to do so. It only works when it’s done without a shred of conscience, but Ryan was up to the task. But since Ryan was supposed to be the brave truth-teller on the ticket, what on earth does that say about the kind of mendacity we are likely to hear from Mitt Romney tonight?

The mind reels.

UPDATE: Paul isn’t the only person who’s noticed Ryan’s Haskell-esque qualities.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.