Monday, February 4, 2013

Rep. Paul Ryan - an assessment

In a recent column for the Inky, Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) complains that the President wants to "Fight a straw man. Avoid honest debate. Win the argument by default." What is his evidence that Obama is smacking Republicans with straw man-type accusations? "The president will bait us," Ryan said. "He'll portray us as cruel and unyielding. Just the other day, he said Republicans had 'suspicions' about Social Security. He said we had 'suspicions' about feeding hungry children. . ."

Dan Froomkin, now at the Huffington Post, sketched out for us just what the term "straw man" meant. President George W. Bush was speaking about the illegal warrantless surveillance that his administration was engaged in:

"You can't protect America unless we give those people on the front lines of protecting this country the tools necessary to do so within the Constitution. And that's where the debate is here in the United States. There are some decent people who don't believe -- evidently don't believe we're at war, and therefore, shouldn't give the administration what is necessary to protect us. "

As Froomkin points out, no one in America was suggesting that we weren't at war. Also, the question of whether warrantless surveillance was within the Constitution, a question simply assumed by Bush to be answerable in the affirmative, is a very deeply controversial one and one that has never been properly investigated or adjudicated. Nor, of course, was it ever shown by the Bush Administration that warrantless surveillance did anything whatsoever to protect America.

So, is it truly a straw man that Republicans have " 'suspicions' about feeding hungry children," in other words, that Republicans have no real desire to see to it that children are properly fed?  Well, according to the former Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, Republicans care deeply about children, so long, of course, that those children are still in the womb. Children who have aleady been born? Ehh, not so much.

Can you be pro-life and vote to cut funding that supports the life of a child? Paul Ryan's cut-at-all-costs budget and philosophy, which 100 percent of the pro-life Republicans voted for, would gut the funding that supports at-risk babies and children: food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families, day care, Head Start, early childhood education, children's health care.
At the state level GOP governors are cutting the child protection workers who handle child abuse and neglect cases -- you know, those awful public employees who must have caused the financial crisis. Programs that would benefit at-risk children outside the womb are all on the chopping block.

So no, I don't agree with Ryan at all that he and his fellow Republicans are being smeared with a straw man-type statement when people question whether they really favor the feeding of hungry children.

How about the charge that Republicans have " 'suspicions' about Social Security"? Well, here too, the facts are seriously biased against Ryan.

The proposal was in Ryan’s 2010 “Roadmap For America’s Future,” a broad blueprint to remake the federal budget which elevated the little-known congressman into the Republican Party’s visionary. It involved shifting Social Security funds to private retirement accounts as well as reducing benefits and gradually raising the age of eligibility.

In other words, again, the charge of Democrats smearing Ryan and Republicans with straw man-type charges comes up as a statement that's without merit.

What does Ryan ultimately want? According to him, a "smaller, smarter government." Okay, that sounds pretty reasonable, even though I'd question why people want, specifically, a smaller government. What's his plan for getting that? What, specifically, would Ryan and his buddies in the Republican Party be comfortable cutting? As The Washington Monthly put it:

For years, a variety of polls from a variety of outlets during a variety of conditions all show the same thing: Americans want to see the government cut public spending -- in the abstract. Asked for specifics, the same Americans actually like public spending and don't want to see cuts.
There is one area that everyone's willing to trim: foreign aid. Good 'ol foreign aid. A category that, as Roger McShane dryly points out, "makes up less than 1% of America's total spending." Beyond that, there were only four areas that even a quarter of the population was willing to cut...

So for many, many years, yes, the American people have wanted to see a smaller government and want government spending cut, except of course, when they're pressed for specifics. Then, they really don't agree on actually cutting anything. The article then documents Ryan making a number of vague, fuzzy statements that don't get anywhere close to specifics.

So no, I don't see any reason to be even slightly impressed with Ryan's promises and accusations.