National Politics

Ryan’s Lies

Image of Paul Ryan

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.

In Defense of Obama

Image of Barack Obama

Glenn Greenwald, writing in Salon.com, has published a thorough piece about the vapid and nauseating political season we’re now enduring as reported by an establishment media system that has immeasurably lowered public discourse in recent decades.

The breathless, horserace type of media reporting we now endure is more focused on Newt Gingrich’s tears for his mother or Mitt Romney’s dog than the reality of our eroding civil liberties or the increasing wealth disparity between the rich and everyone else, whether under the government control of Republicans or Democrats.

I’ll try not to quote Greenwald too much because everyone should read the piece, but here’s the opener:

As I’ve written about before, America’s election season degrades mainstream political discourse even beyond its usual lowly state. The worst attributes of our political culture — obsession with trivialities, the dominance of horserace “reporting,” and mindless partisan loyalties — become more pronounced than ever. Meanwhile, the actually consequential acts of the U.S. Government and the permanent power factions that control it — covert endless wars, consolidation of unchecked power, the rapid growth of the Surveillance State and the secrecy regime, massive inequalities in the legal system, continuous transfers of wealth from the disappearing middle class to large corporate conglomerates — drone on with even less attention paid than usual.

The density of Greenwald’s writing and his relentless presentation of evidence, examples and ironclad logic make him one of the premier progressive writers in the world right now.

Greenwald frames his argument by discussing the candidacy of Ron Paul. He doesn’t endorse Paul, but he argues the candidate is arguing for a progressive approach to both foreign policy and civil liberties unlike President Barack Obama or, of course, the other Republican candidates for president. Thus, the establishment media, Greenwald argues, doesn’t know how to cover him. Greenwald writes:

Whatever else one wants to say, it is indisputably true that Ron Paul is the only political figure with any sort of a national platform — certainly the only major presidential candidate in either party — who advocates policy views on issues that liberals and progressives have long flamboyantly claimed are both compelling and crucial. The converse is equally true: the candidate supported by liberals and progressives and for whom most will vote — Barack Obama — advocates views on these issues (indeed, has taken action on these issues) that liberals and progressives have long claimed to find repellent, even evil.

Greenwald concedes that Paul has baggage, most notably older newsletters in his name that contained derogatory comments about African Americans and the gay community but essentially argues that doesn’t just cancel out some of Paul’s other better ideas.

As Greenwald has long argued, those Democrats and progressives who “flamboyantly” criticized former President George W. Bush for his foreign and civil liberties’ policies are hypocrites when they fail to criticize President Barack Obama for continuing and even extending the concept of The Imperial President, who can essentially unilaterally declare war or jail American citizens indefinitely if they’re deemed suspected terrorists.

I agree with Greenwald, and although I have criticized Obama for his dismal record on civil liberties, it doesn’t compare to how many words, here and elsewhere, I wrote criticizing Bush on these issues during the years of his presidency. Unfortunately, like many people, I find myself drifting once again into the “lesser-of-the-two evils” political trap that is both reductionist and dangerous in the long-term. I understand this. I also understand political fatigue.

Let me be clear. Obama recently signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, that allows the federal government to hold an American citizen indefinitely, without trial, if the person is deemed a terrorist. The NDAA also continues the current guidelines about transfers of Guantanamo prisoners. This is wrong and deplorable.

Obama said he had “serious reservations” about the bill, but he signed it anyway. It’s obvious he signed the bill for political reasons, willing to risk trading away basic human rights of United States citizens for his own reelection chances because he doesn’t want to seem soft on terrorism. It’s politics at its most despicable level, but it doesn’t mean Paul should be president.

I warned long ago that Bush’s policies were unlikely to be overturned by future presidents, Democratic or Republican. Who wants to give up power? What politician wants to give up policies that can be turned into intense campaign tools? Perpetual war and all its attendant scare tactics favor incumbents.

Having said all this, I won’t vote for Ron Paul if he were to eventually run on a third ticket, or any ticket for that matter, because of his past racist record and his other proposals about draconian cuts in government. I WILL vote for Obama, who is a deeply flawed candidate but someone I believe—or at least hope at this point—can be moved to a more forceful progressive view by growing protests in this country over wealth disparity, civil liberties and other issues. In a second term, without an upcoming election hanging over his head, Obama should feel freer to adopt more progressive policies.

I don’t come to this position as some mindless party partisan, as Greenwald might suggest, but through a process of logic and choice. I can check out of the mainstream system or not. I can join a third party or disavow electoral politics altogether. I choose, for now at least, to engage the current political process as broken as it is, as disgusting as it seems right now to me and others, including Greenwald.

So below this paragraph are some responses to Greenwald’s piece. These are not necessarily counter arguments but ideas to consider along with Greenwald’s claims. I hope it gives at least some reason for myself and others to keep on fighting for now within the system, though I can still envision a time when sustained street protest or revolution might be the only recourse for change.

  • Time. Intentionally or not, Greenwald’s piece doesn’t deal with the issue of the length of time it can take in this country for significant political change. This is often the case with Greenwald’s writing in Salon.com. The modern-day conservative movement, which we can date back to the Ronald Reagan presidency, is approximately 30 years old. By contrast, a somewhat coherent, postmodern progressive movement—note the word “postmodern” here—didn’t really begin until the controversial election of Bush in 2000. New technologies have allowed progressive ideas and rhetorical counters to conservative dogma and right-wing media to flourish, but make no mistake that this is a long process. It could take another 20 years for more progressive ideas or a more progressive sensibility to take root more broadly in the electorate.

  • In praise of Obama. As disappointed as many progressives have been in the Obama presidency so far, and I’m one of them, he has accomplished what no Republican president would have accomplished during the years he has been president. He pushed through the Affordable Care Act, which didn’t include a public option but can be viewed as a first step to universal coverage if the GOP doesn’t repeal it or if the U.S. Supreme Court deems it unconstitutional. He saved the country from another Great Depression and passed a stimulus program, even if it should have been larger. He removed combat troops from the mistaken and costly military occupation of Iraq, a huge step in ending the neocon’s push for perpetual war. I agree we should end the occupation of Afghanistan as well, and I believe that could happen in Obama’s next term. I believe Obama won’t try to compromise as much with recalcitrant Republicans in a second term. I also expect him to run a campaign that reflects the concerns of the Occupy Wall Street movement about the growing wealth disparity between the rich and everyone else. These arguments are either missing or glossed over with general qualifications in Greenwald’s piece.

  • Do we give up? Many of Greenwald’s pieces sometimes leave me, momentarily, politically paralyzed. What does Greenwald suggest? In this piece and others, it’s sometimes extremely unclear. Greenwald is certainly not endorsing Paul in his piece. That’s obvious. Does he think we should check out of what for better or worse we have to call mainstream politics? Should we join a third party? Should progressives condemn Obama, leave electoral politics and allow Republicans back in control with the hope the carnage they wreck will convince voters that true progressives need to be empowered?

Obviously, the number of readers who will read my longer post all the way through is relatively small, and I’m sure Greenwald could care less. But maybe Greenwald risks becoming part of what he’s always criticizing, especially when he offers no answers to our broken political system. Political change isn’t going to happen just because Greenwald appears on reductionist cable television programs and argues the “right” progressive view with a conservative shill or because he entertains the progressive intelligentsia with his dense and powerful writing. It has to happen on the streets, and that’s a disordered process that may or may not result in immediate gains or any success at all. Meanwhile, I also believe Obama can STILL be a conduit for major change or, at worse, yes, the lesser of two evils. The streets. Obama. One doesn’t exclude the other.

Can Democrats Here Gain Traction On Saving Medicare?

Image of James Lankford and Paul Ryan

It’s a long shot prediction in red-state Oklahoma, but those local U.S. Representatives who recently voted in favor of dismantling Medicare could face reelection problems in 2012.

All the Republicans in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation voted in favor of a budget proposal by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) that would change Medicare into a voucher program in which seniors would have to eventually pay substantially more for their health care and insurance. (I wrote about the proposal here. Here is Paul Krugman on the issue). To his credit, U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, a Blue Dog Democrat, voted against the plan, which passed the House because of the Republican majority and failed in the Senate.

Amid all the negative hoopla over Ryan’s plan, Democrat Kathy Hochul won a U.S. House special election race in upstate New York in a predominately Republican district by campaigning against the GOP’s Medicare elimination plan.

Could a Hochul-like victory happen here? Unfortunately, there are no clear signs that it could, and with the local, anti-Obama hysteria fanned constantly by the biased, corporate media here, it seems almost impossible for Democrats to make gains in the short term. Yet Democrats could have an opportunity in some races if they pushed back against the destruction of Medicare and fielded good candidates.

U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe are not up for reelection in 2012, but all House seats will be up for grabs. At this point, the best chance for Democratic success would seem to be in U.S. Rep. James Lankford’s 5th District and U.S. John Sullivan’s 1st District. Those districts cover large metropolitan areas, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and, by default, have more diversity in political philosophies. Grassroots campaigns probably have a better chance right now in those areas. Perhaps, the perennially cash-strapped Democrats could focus on those two districts as they offer to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security from the Republicans.

Lankford, pictured right with Ryan, who is serving his first term, seems especially vulnerable because he has really done nothing in Washington but essentially expressed frustration about the political process and supported Ryan’s plan to end Medicare as we know it. The idea that the Ryan plan on Medicare is a serious proposal is just nonsense. But that’s what Lankford wants us to believe. Why does Lankford want seniors on fixed incomes to pay astronomical amounts of money for health care? He needs to be held accountable.

Can Democrats here keep Medicare as an issue if the GOP backs away from the radical proposal? Yes, but those efforts need to start now and continue through the general election in 2012. The issue is simply that the current Republican political ideology in Washington is radical and dangerous. A prevailing number of Republicans apparently want to dismantle programs for seniors and end them for future generations. Those programs include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The Republicans argue they want to cut government spending, but, meanwhile, we continue to pour money into two military actions that Americans quit supporting years ago. Here’s what the GOP political strategy seems to be right now: Ignore what people want Congress to do and hurt as many old people as possible in the process. It may not be political suicide here among the Obama haters, but it didn’t fly in upstate New York, and it’s not going to fly in other places as well.

The idea, pushed by Republicans, that any protest against their plan is “Mediscare” and hyperbole is laughable and ludicrous given the GOP political venom used to attack the Affordable Care Act.

So the Democratic strategy here right now should be two-fold when it comes to the Congressional races: Pound Republicans on their cruel, inhumane votes to dismantle Medicare and find good candidates, who will have to work extremely hard for a long-shot chance at victory. It’s not much, but it’s something.

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