The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Bullsh*tter

Paul Ryan’s confabulation about his prowess as a marathoner has created as much puzzlement as schadenfreude among Blue commentators. Did he actually mis-remember his time (in what appears to have been his only marathon) or did he disastrously misjudge the level of scrutiny he is now under and try to get away with an outrageous fib?

I’ve never met Ryan, don’t know anyone who knows him, and have no qualifications as a psychologist or psychiatrist. (And if I had, I’d think it grossly unethical to make long-distance diagnoses and publish them.) But it seems to me that the most natural explanation here – and the one most relevant to Ryan’s (un)fitness to be placed a heartbeat from the Presidency – is that Ryan ran a two-fifty-something marathon exactly the same way he plans to balance the budget: in his dreams.

After a decade in the wingnut cocoon, drawing adulation in the Murdoch press and at AEI and Heritage for inventing collections of numbers that don’t add up, perhaps Ryan has simply become untethered from reality. Anything that makes an audience cheer, or makes a billionaire write another check to a friendly SuperPac, or makes Hugh Hewitt say “Holy Smokes!” counts as “true” for Ryan, regardless of its relationship to facts on the ground.

Every political campaign consists of some truth, some falsehood, and some bullsh*t. What’s different about Romney-Ryan is that it’s bullsh*t all the way down. Frankfurt is right to say that b.s. is a greater enemy of the truth than is a lie. And by the same token, a b.s. artist in politics is a much graver threat to the Republic than a mere liar.

A liar merely denies the truth he knows to be true; a chronic bullsh*tter has forgotten that the truth even exists. So Ryan can, in all subjective sincerity, talk about “the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak” while proposing a budget plan that cuts taxes for billionaires and health care for poor sick children.

Have I mentioned recently that the stakes in this election are extraordinarily high? What are you – yes, you – going to do today to make it less likely that the Romney-Ryan Clown Show gets to the White House?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.