|Big Ego, Small Bulk (graphic by Kat Garcia)|
Paul Ryan emerged from the ancient subway tunnel of his mind this week and unleashed his latest attempt at Ayn Rand fan fiction upon the World Council of Scholars. In a literary hissy fit largely ignored because of the Ukraine crisis, he threw his cold, cold water on all 50 candles of the LBJ War on Poverty birthday cake. It's his Party, and he can cry if he wants to.
And he wants everybody to cry with him. Especially the poor people, without whom there would be no distasteful Poverty and no need for the anti-poverty programs that in Paul Ryan's world are only making poverty worse for the poor. At a mere 204 pages long, his War on Poverty:50 Years Later is reportedly only a precursor, a mere novella,of the much more explicitly Galtean blockbuster expected out later this publishing season. The real drama-- boldly slashing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps -- is yet to come.
It took Paul Ryan (or an unpaid intern) 204 pages to cherry-pick from various economic reports and academic papers to arrive at the conclusion that although some government programs help needy people, the statistics are so confusing, and the road out of poverty so deceitfully web-like, that we just can never know for sure. So let's blast the whole thing to smithereens and have a debate.
The reviews are in, and as usual, they are mixed. The New York Times editorial board very mildly called Paul Ryan's Anthem fan-fic "small and tired."
It's easy to find flaws or waste in any government program, but the proper response is to fix those flaws, not throw entire programs away as Mr. Ryan and his party have repeatedly proposed. It might be possible, for example, to consolidate some of the 20 different low-income housing programs identified in the report, but Congressional Democrats have no reason to negotiate with a party that fundamentally doesn’t believe government should play a significant role in reducing poverty.
Um... the Democrats have not yet gotten that message, judging from their recent compromise with Paul Ryan on $9 billion in additional cuts to the food stamp program and not fighting for extended unemployment benefits, effectively throwing an additional three million Americans into outright destitution.
Paul Krugman, widely acknowledged as the first expert to call Ryan out on his honesty problem, is similarly unimpressed with his latest potboiler:
I took Paul Ryan’s measure almost four years ago, back when everyone in Washington was determined to see him as the Serious, Honest Conservative they knew had to exist somewhere. Everything we’ve seen of him since then has confirmed that initial judgment. When you see a big report from Ryan, you shouldn’t ask “Is this a con job?” but instead skip right to “Where’s the con?”Krugman notes that Ryan's literary style has changed somewhat with his latest flim-flam, because this time around he uses actual footnotes instead of simply spewing undocumented assertions. Of course, the con involves the research papers being cherry-picked at best, misrepresented at slightly better, and totally irrelevant at worst. He's counting on folks not reading the footnotes. And unfortunately for Ryan, some people are having the chutzpah to not only read the footnotes but unsportingly notice disconnect from reality.
Despite it all, Paul Ryan still has his legions of fans. Take The Washington Post, still grieving over the temporary shelving of a Grand Bargain of safety net cuts in Obama's own politically expedient campaign year version of a budget. In a report presented as a straight news article rather than an editorial, Robert Costa apparently found the task of actually reading Ryan's footnotes too onerous (or too scary to contemplate):
Ryan and his aides are unsparing in how they take the hammer to current federal policies. On page after page, the report casts a critical eye on how the government administers money to the poor and related bureaucracies, using a bevy of academic literature and federal studies as evidence.
Ryan said the crux of the report is the conclusion that federal programs need to be entirely reimagined, with more than tweaks or axed appropriations, and that legislation this year should move toward broader solutions that solve what he thinks are structural weaknesses in how the government supports the poor.Costa is unsparing in his wholesale swallowing of Ryan's specious claims. Take, for example, this terse encapsulation of Caligula Caucus talking points:
According to the report, Head Start, a federal program for early-childhood education and nutrition, is “failing to prepare children for school,” and “a consolidated, well-funded system would be better.”
Medicaid, which provides health coverage to low-income families, is the object of a sharply worded review. “Medicaid coverage has little effect on patients’ health,” the report says, adding that it imposes an “implicit tax on beneficiaries,” “crowds out private insurance” and “increases the likelihood of receiving welfare benefits.”
The report also suggests that the “breakdown” of the family is one of the main reasons that poverty afflicts so many Americans.
“Perhaps the single most important determinant of poverty is family structure,” the report says. “Poverty is most concentrated among broken families.”Costa didn't even have to look at the planted footnotes to notice the inherent "bevy" of inconsistencies in Ryan's own report. Headstart is federally funded and therefore does not prepare children for school. So, says Ryan, let's federally fund it and prepare children for school! Also, Headstart does not prepare children for the labor force. Then again, it offers significant incentives for kids to grow up and join the work force!
If they ever decide to award a Pulitzer for "best synergy in a political novel" Paul Ryan will be the hands-down favorite.
Ryan naturally failed to mention income disparity as a driving force in rising poverty levels, preferring instead to blame the victim instead of the predator -- especially those repugnant "broken families." But, as Sharon Parrott of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities writes,
The poverty story over the last half-century in the United States is mixed for several reasons. A much stronger safety net along with factors such as rising education levels, higher employment among women, and smaller families helped push poverty down. At the same time, rising numbers of single-parent families, growing income inequality, and worsening labor market prospects for less-skilled workers have pushed in the other direction.
Today’s safety net — which includes important programs and improvements both from the Johnson era and thereafter — cuts poverty nearly in half. In 2012, it kept 41 million people, including 9 million children, out of poverty, according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM). If government benefits are excluded, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent under the SPM; with those benefits, the rate is 16 percent. Most analysts view the SPM as a better poverty measure than the “official” measure because it’s more comprehensive. The SPM counts not only cash income but, unlike the official measure, also non-cash and tax-based benefits, such as SNAP (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and rental vouchers. Also unlike the official measure, it accounts for income and payroll taxes paid, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and child care expenses, and it adjusts the poverty line to reflect geographic differences in living costs.Even with the remedies of the increasingly endangered New Deal and Great Society programs, the United States ranks low on the global social welfare scale. As Sharon Parrott notes, nearly 50 million Americans, or at least one-sixth of the population, are now living below the poverty line in the richest country on earth. Of those, nearly 50 percent live below half the poverty line. In other words, they are downright destitute. Six out of every 10 children live in families that experience at least one financial crisis a year. According to Paul Ryan and his ilk, these children and their families are trapped in a "culture of dependency."
So how does a serial prevaricator like Ryan even survive on the national stage, let alone handily win re-election over and over again in his own financially strapped Wisconsin district?
In a nutshell, he is the Very Useful Idiot (cousin of Krugman's Very Serious Person) of the Congressional leadership and keeper of the status quo. Take away the footnotes, and his poverty manifesto is Social Darwinism presented in pulp fiction style.
Of course, his propaganda serves the purpose of making the president's own neoliberal budget look downright progressive in comparison, what with those earned income tax incentives for poor single workers balanced against means-testing Medicare recipients and reducing the benefits of disabled unemployed people. President Obama may not be calling for an expansion of Social Security, a tax on Wall Street trades, a rescinding of the sadistic bipartisan cuts to the food stamp program, but by golly, his less-cruel proposals sure do beat the swift death that Paul the Hammock Man is prescribing!
Back in his home district of Racine, Ryan's approval rating has now slipped below the 50% mark, and his one-time Democratic opponent is vowing to challenge Golden Boy once again. Ron Zerban lost the race by a slimmer margin than predicted in 2012, despite the best defunding efforts of the DCCC.
(Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee)
As Down With Tyranny reports, the DCCC actively protects Republicans like Paul Ryan, John Boehner, and Eric Cantor who enjoy House Leadership positions by deliberately withholding campaign cash from any potential "progressive" challengers. Rep. Steve Israel (New D-NY) was appointed by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as campaign bagman for the party because he possesses the "sufficient reptilian tendencies" to make sure that only the right corporate Dems get elected. Gaius Publius of Americablog has more on the machinations.
Paul Ryan survives precisely because of the rampant complicity of all (the media political complex) concerned.
But who knows? Maybe all those Lonesome Rhodes moments will eventually catch up with him. The $350 bottles of wine, the serial begging for funds from the very programs he pretends to oppose.
And maybe, just maybe, the serial bipartisan hypocrisy and corruption will eventually catch up with the whole lot of them. All we can do is keep shining a light.