The question is not so much whether GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is the incarnation of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels as it is why approximately half the voting electorate in the country doesn’t apparently care a prominent politician is telling obvious lie after obvious lie in a crass bid to get elected.
The other question is whether Ryan remains intentionally deceitful because he knows he can get away with it because his supporters and the media don’t care or whether he’s simply a pathological liar, who can’t help himself because of a psychological disorder. Perhaps, it’s a combination of both.
Make no mistake. I’m not playing the Nazi card on Ryan, though I do think his nomination acceptance speech was filled with, as one pundit put it, “brazen lies.” The Goebbels charge became part of the political stew after the leader of the California Democratic Party, John Burton, compared Ryan to Hitler’s minister of propaganda in a newspaper interview. His comments have been widely criticized by Republicans, of course, and even the Obama camp has disavowed the comparison.
But, in the end, doesn’t Ryan’s speech just become part of the static of politicospeak? Isn’t all politicospeak some form of embellishment, hyperbole, rhetoric, distortion, exaggeration, twisted symbolism, faulty metaphors, intentional omissions, etc.? I believe this is what the Republicans hope voters think this year and what the media accepts, with a cynical shrug, as politics as usual. That’s just the way it is, right?
As the Democratic National Convention gets underway today, and with polls showing President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney virtually tied in the polls, the issue of Ryan’s lies should be at the forefront of the national political debate.
Ryan’s lies do matter. There is a distinction between arguing the rhetoric of “Obamacare will bankrupt the country” or “Romney likes to fire people” than specifically and openly telling lies about easily verifiable historical events, which is the case with Ryan. If the voting electorate in this country can’t or won’t make the distinction, then these are, indeed, dark days.
I won’t go through each lie in Ryan’s speech last week, which would be a tedious and redundant task. Here’s Factcheck.org’s take on it. One lie I did find extremely reprehensible was Ryan’s claim—delivered in a slow, “can-you-believe-it” diction—that Obama clearly rejected the recommendations of a bipartisan debt reduction commission. In fact, there was never a formal recommendation because Ryan, along with others, who served on the commission, opposed the plan.
So let’s be clear: Ryan helped kill a debt-reduction plan that he now falsely claims the president didn't support, and that makes Obama an awful person. Well, if Ryan didn't support the plan either, then doesn't make him just as much of a bad person?
For me, what’s most reprehensible about this lie is in its delivery. The handsome Ryan gazed into the camera with his sad blue eyes, slowed his speech considerably, and said, “He created a new bipartisan debt commission. [Pause] They came back with an urgent report. [Pause] He thanks them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” Only the first line of that is anywhere close to the truth. There never was a formal “urgent report” because certain people on the commission—Ryan was one of them—didn’t support the final report. How can this not be considered an obvious lie? Where’s the embellishment or exaggeration or ambiguity? It’s just a lie.
Another telling lie that surfaced recently is Ryan’s whopper than he once ran a marathon in under three hours, an incredible feat of athleticism. He made the claim in a radio interview. Turns out, he has only participated in one marathon in his life, and he didn’t even break the four-hour mark, according to the magazine Runner’s World.
No one doubts that Ryan isn’t in great physical shape so why the obvious lie? He later claimed he simply forgot his time, but any amateur runner who has completed just one marathon and finished it under three hours is probably going to remember it quite clearly. Again, this brings up the issue of pathology. Everyone lies, but some people repeatedly lie when they simply don’t have to, and this, in my view, can mean the chronic liar may have a mental disorder.
Ryan’s supporters will no doubt take his explanation at face value or just consider the marathon lie as harmless bravado, but I would argue it shows, in the context of his other lies, at the very least a character deficit.
If the Democrats can’t get some traction on the issue of Ryan’s lies, and other GOP-based lies, at their convention this week, then we should wonder if the new political-communication and media paradigm in this country has come to this: The truth is dead. Or, in a more cynical view, has the truth in a political sense been dead and resurrected in cycles throughout history and we’re now in the “dead” zone?
The Goebbels reference might not be helpful, but how the Democrats respond to blatant GOP lying this political season is perhaps more important than whether Obama wins a second term. I know some Democrats won’t like that idea, but I believe—I WANT to believe—there are millions of voters who still seek truth above party affiliation or the achievements of one leader. Play the convention to that crowd, ditch the politicospeech, which will obviously lead to counter-charges of lying, and let’s see what happens.