Paul Ryan: Charlatan And Traitor
As Paul Ryan exits Washington and ends one of the longest cons in modern political history, it is remarkable to see that so many of his marks in the media have finally discovered how badly they have been played. Certainly Ryan’s signature dish, the Trump tax cuts that add a minimum of $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, finally made it clear to all who were still believers that his career of constantly railing about that debt, primarily when Democrats were in power, was a total fraud. What’s more, the return he got for this massive transfer of wealth to the richest 1% was a sugar high in the stock market that lasted less than one year and nothing more.
The media also ate up Ryan’s crocodile tears for the plight of the poor as he decried “liberal dependency” and promoted “conservative empowerment” while producing draconian budgets that decimated the very programs the poor relied on and offering nothing but privatized options in their place. Ryan supported privatizing Social Security as recently as 2010 and studies showed that his original proposal on the front in 2004 would have ended up with Social Security owning every stock and corporate bond in the US markets by 2050, which indicates the level of seriousness with which Ryan approached his supposed solutions. And his budgets were just as big a sham as that proposal. Krugman detailed the wide use of “magic asterisks” that miraculously brought Ryan’s budgets into balance but gave no path or details to the “savings” they represented.
As noted above, Krugman saw through Ryan’s con from the beginning. Others, who had bought his schtick hook, line, and sinker, are now writing their mea culpas. Ezra Klein has a particularly honest appraisal of his own failure, something that it would be helpful for others in the media to take note of when they think about their coverage of the 2016 election. Klein focuses on being duped by Ryan’s claims of fiscal rectitude and taking his proposals seriously even as he opposed them. Only now, in the wake of Ryan’s speakership, does Klein admit that it was all a con from the beginning. And it’s quite possible that Ryan’s last act of supposed fiscal probity will be as an accessory to the brilliant plan to shut down the government in order to spend billions of dollars on a wall that isn’t needed and is not paid for, a fitting denouement for sure.
While the focus has largely been on Ryan’s fiscal frauds, his most lasting legacy may be his complicity in the attack on democracy perpetuated by the Republican party. Ryan was in the room when the intelligence community laid out the evidence describing the ongoing Russian attack on our election in October 2016. McConnell chose party over country by not only refusing to join in a bipartisan effort to condemn the attack but actually subverted any defense against the attack by declaring he would treat any public action in that regard as a partisan move. Ryan was apparently silent on the issue but that silence was equivalent to an assent of McConnell’s position. And, armed with that knowledge, Ryan had the opportunity to walk away from the Trump, especially after the Access Hollywood tape. Instead, like virtually al of his GOP colleagues, he put his tail between his legs and returned to the fold.
Worse, unlike McConnell, who has largely treated the Russian investigation with willful neglect but let the Senate Intelligence Community do its work, Ryan allowed the House Intelligence Committee to not only become part of the Trump defense but also to actively subvert and attack the Mueller investigation. At any point, Ryan could have stepped in as Speaker and forced the Committee to clean up its act. Instead, he let them ride roughshod over the traditional independence and bipartisan nature of the committee, destroying much of its effectiveness for the foreseeable future.
Paul Ryan will go on to reap a financial windfall, probably grifting for his major benefactors the Koch Brothers. And he can always take on the role of Pete Peterson, coming out of the woodwork during every Democratic administration to declare another “most predictable economic crisis we have ever had” will soon occur because of our national debt.
It’s good to see that Ryan is finally being recognized for the charlatan he has always been but it should never be forgotten that he, like McConnell, chose party over country when the moment of truth arrived. That should be as great a part of his legacy as his role as a fiscal fraudster.