[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
Rep. Paul Ryan's Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address was, in my humble opinion, a low moment for our democracy.
Ryan is not the first Republican to be less than honest about an issue (in this case President Obama's handling of the federal budget deficit) to push an ideologically based policy initiative that has no real positive effect for the American people. Republicans routinely seek to protect financial institutions, oil companies, health insurers and other corporate entities, as well as the richest two percent of Americans, at the expense of the rest of the country, by pretending that their policies are meant to help the average American, rather than the true beneficiaries, the country's most privileged (even as the income disparity in the U.S. skyrockets to pre-Great Depression levels). Like tax cuts for the wealthy.
What makes the Ryan response so disheartening is his out-and-out fear mongering, relayed by a politician who (if you listen to his party) is one of the reasonable and intelligent up-and-coming leaders of the GOP. In the Republican response, Ryan said:
"A few years ago, reducing spending was important. Today, it's imperative. Here's why.
We face a crushing burden of debt. The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy, and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.
On this current path, when my three children - who are now 6, 7, and 8 years old - are raising their own children, the Federal government will double in size, and so will the taxes they pay.
No economy can sustain such high levels of debt and taxation. The next generation will inherit a stagnant economy and a diminished country.
Frankly, it's one of my greatest concerns as a parent - and I know many of you feel the same way."
"Catastrophic" debt! A "diminished" United States! Your children are screwed! This is nuclear-Armageddon-like rhetoric. Are you scared yet?
And then he makes two claims:
1) Everyone is to blame for the debt.
2) President Obama has made things way worse.
Thus, according to Ryan, the country is heading toward a financial disaster, his party didn't cause it, President Obama poured fuel on the fire, and it's now up to the good-guy Republicans to fix everything by cutting spending and restoring jobs.
Ryan's story would be awesome ... if it wasn't false on nearly every single count.
To start with, as the Political Correction project of Media Matters (in an extensive, data-supported, point-by-point analysis that is an absolute must-read) and Paul Krugman both demonstrated, Ryan's numbers on what President Obama has done since he took office are a work of fiction. Ryan was completely inaccurate and disingenuous on the results of the stimulus bill, job growth numbers, the deficit, the Democratic record on tax cuts, the reason for the need to increase the debt ceiling, what has happened in Europe, and the impact of health care reform on jobs, debt and taxes.
It is also voodoo economics to believe that you can balance the federal budget on spending cuts alone (and with tax cuts added in to boot). Ryan's claim in this regard is also complete fiction. You can care about deficits, or you can care about tax cuts, but right now, you can't have both.
Ryan also employs a really nifty (but totally dishonest) trick to pretend to be nonpartisan to hide the misdeeds of his own party (the group he says can save us from the impending catastrophe). On the surface, it might seem above-the-fray of him to declare:
"Our debt is the product of acts by many presidents and many Congresses over many years. No one person or party is responsible for it."
But, again, Ryan is playing fast and loose with the facts. In the three years before George W. Bush took office, the Clinton administration ran budget surpluses. But after eight years of ineptitude (including unpaid-for tax cuts for the wealthy and a debilitating, mishandled and unnecessary war in Iraq), Bush left the White House by handing a $482 billion deficit to President Obama. Sure, where we are now is a product of decisions made for the last several decades, but the contribution of Bush and the Republican Congress in driving up the deficit in the 2000s is unmatched in recent history.
Ryan saying "no one person or party is responsible" isn't magnanimous, it's deceitful. It's like a guy going to a party, getting drunk, smashing the host's expensive china, and then saying, "Let's not assess blame, let's just clean up the mess." And really, who is going to appoint that guy to head the clean-up committee?
So, to recap, the supposed intellectual and reasonable rising star of the GOP addressed a national television audience after the president's State of the Union address and unloaded a stream of false figures on the American public in an effort to scare them into addressing a problem that isn't as immediate or dire as he wants them to think it is, and isn't the fault of the person he's accusing, all in an effort to use the hard times facing the country to advance his ideological agenda.
That's not behavior any public official should be proud of.
As I tweeted shortly after the Republican response, with Ryan's apparent love of using fiction to scare people, he should write horror films. What really scares me is that there will be no repercussions for a political leader who goes on national television and conveys so much false information with bad intentions. Will the American people let Ryan get away with this kind of nonsense?