Paul Ryan’s rebuttal & Paul Krugman’s kindness

Well, von Ryan’s express has left the station and no one was impressed. Rep. Paul Ryan, oft-proclaimed brainiac of the new-gen Repubs, gave his rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address. There’s much comment on the style of his performance, his own future prospects as White House resident, his acting, and his hair. (John’s excellent comparison of Obama and Ryan is here.)

But I was most struck, as I listened, by this one paragraph:

Just take a look at what’s happening to Greece, Ireland, the United Kingdom and other nations in Europe. They didn’t act soon enough; and now their governments have been forced to impose painful austerity measures: large benefit cuts to seniors and huge tax increases on everybody.

Now, I’ve read a document or two in my time on this planet, and a few have involved the current European crisis. And as soon as he said that, I thought — he’s lying; not a word of this is true.

Paul Krugman agrees, sort of (my emphasis):

[I]f your whole public act is based on your supposed knowledge of the importance of fiscal responsibility, wouldn’t you long ago have made sure that you actually know something about the fiscal crises now taking place in Europe?

But no. I suspect that Ryan is honestly unaware that Ireland, far from being a spendthrift, was seen as a fiscal role model before the crisis. And that’s not hyperbole: in 2006 George Osborne, now Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared that

Ireland stands as a shining example of the art of the possible in long-term economic policymaking, and that is why I am in Dublin: to listen and to learn.

And I also suspect that Ryan is honestly unaware that the UK has not, in fact, experienced a debt crisis.

How can he be unaware of these things? The only explanation I have is intellectual laziness — why check the facts when you already believe that you have The Truth?

That’s so kind. Unfortunately, you can’t be intellectually lazy if you’re not an intellectual. Ryan’s a Movement Conservative operative, one with good enough hair to get him into Congress.

Intellect is not his playing field, it’s his “act”, as Krugman correctly points out (or his “USP” in sales parlance, unique selling point, like “squeezably soft” or “doesn’t leave a ring”). Ryan’s playing field isn’t intellect, it’s power, and his tool is “Say anything to win”. It was Rove’s tool, Bush’s tool, Rumsfeld’s tool; it’s Newt’s tool, McCain’s tool, Boehner’s tool; and it’s Ryan’s tool.

You can’t be an intellectual if the mind doesn’t matter. And whether he believes his swill or not, is not at all the point. After all, most determined liars, at some point, are forced to believe themselves; self-deception is the only way they can get any sleep at night.

Ryan’s tool — Say anything to win. Good thing for us he’s not a better actor; that good hair might make him even more dangerous than he is.


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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