Paul Ryan’s speech was so remarkably, staggeringly dishonest that you’d think it would have to change the narrative. And, yet, it probably won’t. The idea that Paul Ryan is a Truth-Telling Teller of Wonky Hard Truths is a very well-entrenched narrative, although he was no more of a transparent fraud on Wednesday than he’s always been. The many dishonest parts of the speech were mostly worded in a weaselly enough way to permit the “I’m not lying, I’m dissembling!” routine that was recently perfected by Niall Ferguson. The contrast with Gore — whose unearned reputation as a big liar, it needs to be repeated again, was not driven primarily by the conservative press but by the New York Times and the Washington Post, including by some writers who remain inexplicably well-regarded by many liberals today — couldn’t be more depressing. I’d like to think that Ryan’s big speech will change the narrative, but I doubt it.
While we’re on the subject of Ryan, the de facto leader of the Republican Party, this is also a crucial point:
The political logic embedded in Ryan’s formulation was even more telling. He dismissed the goal of providing health insurance to those who can’t afford it as something “we didn’t even ask for.” Who is “we”? We is the majority of Americans who do have health insurance. We outnumber the 50 million who don’t. They can go screw themselves. Ryan actually called Obama’s decision to cut what he deemed wasteful spending in Medicare to cover the uninsured his “coldest power play.” It is a cold power play to give medical care to people who can’t get it, and an act of compassion to take it away from them.
Relatedly, the very biggest untruth in the whole speech was when he pretended to believe that “[t]he truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” But even if your policy agenda boils down shredding Medicare, Medicaid, and all other aid to the poor to pay for upper-class tax cuts and defense spending, if you’re a Republican asserting it is enough.
UPDATE: As Howard notes in comments, Ed Kilgore was right — that line is a forced pregnancy dog whistle. Shorter Paul Ryan: “Lie, lie, lie, lie, nonsense, non-sequitur, lie, life begins at conception and ends at birth. God Bless America, try the veal, don’t bother tipping your waitress because she’s probably a parasite.”