Paul Ryan: Randian poseur: Mitt Romney couldn’t have chosen a better example of the fakery at the heart of today’s GOP
Paul Ryan was born into a well-to-do Janesville, Wisc. family, part of the so-called ‘Irish mafia’ that’s run the city’s construction industry since the 19th century. When his lawyer father died young, sadly, the high-school aged Ryan received Social Security survivor benefits. But they didn’t go directly to supporting his family; by his own account, he banked them for college. He went to Miami University of Ohio, paying twice as much tuition as an Ohio resident would have; the in-state University of Wisconsin system (which I attended) apparently wasn’t good enough for Ryan. After his government-subsidized out-of-state education, the pride of Janesville left college and went to work for government, where he’s spent his entire career, first serving Republican legislators and then in his own Congressional seat, with occasional stints at his family-owned construction business when he needed a job (reportedly he also drove an Oscar Mayer Wiener Mobile for a while).
Ironically, Ryan came to national attention trying to dismantle the very program that helped him go to the college of his choice, pushing an even more radical version of President Bush’s Social Security privatization plan, which failed. He has since become the scourge of the welfare state, a man wholly supported by government who preaches against the evils of government support. He could be the poster boy for President Obama’s supposedly controversial oration about how we all owe our success to some combination of our own hard work, family backing and government support. Let’s say it together: You didn’t build that career by yourself, Congressman Ryan.
Thus Paul Ryan represents the fakery at the heart of the Republican project today. It starts with the contradiction that Mr. Free Enterprise has spent his life in the bosom of government, enjoying the added protection of wingnut welfare benefactors like the Koch brothers. If Herman Cain is Charles and David Koch’s ‘brother from another mother,’ as he famously joked, Ryan is the fourth Koch, swaddled in support from Americans for Prosperity and other Koch fronts. The man who wants to make the world safe for swashbuckling, risk-taking capitalists hasn’t spent a day at economic risk in his entire life.
The other component of GOP fakery Ryan exemplifies is the notion that a pampered scion of a construction empire who has spent his life supported by government somehow represents the ‘white working class,’ by virtue of the demographics of his gradually gerrymandered blue collar district. I write about this in my book: guys like Ryan (and his Irish Catholic GOP confrere Pat Buchanan) somehow become the political face of the white working class when they never spent a day in that class in their life. Their only tether to it is their remarkable ability to tap into the economic anxiety of working class whites and steer it toward paranoia that their troubles are the fault of ‘other’ people – the slackers and the moochers, Ayn Rand’s famous ‘parasites.’ Since the ’60s, those parasites are most frequently understood to be African American or Latino – but they’re always understood to be the ‘lesser-than’ folks, morally, intellectually and genetically weaker than the rest of us.
Today, though, the ‘parasites’ Republicans rail against also happen to be white. Ryan’s intellectual soulmate Charles Murray, of course, has shown that the struggling white working class is now besieged by the same bad morals that dragged down African Americans – laziness, promiscuity and a preference for welfare over work. Ryan himself rails against the ‘takers’ who are living off the ‘makers.’ And while in the realm of dog whistle politics, many Republicans hope working class whites still see the takers as ‘other,’ in fact, Ryan’s definition of ‘taker’ includes much of the GOP base. It’s up to Democrats to make that plain to the electorate.
To me it is clear, Paul Ryan plays up the racist dog whistle politics for his base back in his district as most Republicans seem to do these days. What else can explain how Ryan wins re-election when his ideology would throw 99% of his constituency under the federal bus.
That means to me, when the white blue collar people in Ryan’s district hear ‘cut federal entitlements’ they hear: no more of our ‘hard working white money’ going to fund shiftless lazy minorities and our federal entitlement money will be safe because he is really talking about ‘welfare’ and by welfare we mean money to blacks and Latinos who don’t work.
Those blue collar white folks who vote for Ryan think their jobs would be safe since they have real jobs like maintaining federal highways. Yea, I know. But what I don’t know is why the ^%&%( Democrats have been able to let these dog whistle racist pukes get away with it for so long?
The article continues:
In the 70s, of course, Ryan’s GOP won over the white working class with these sorts of anti-welfare appeals, and at the time it was understood that the takers weren’t white. The toughest issue for today’s GOP is that increasingly, government takers are white; many are white seniors, the core of the GOP base. I’ve written before about Dartmouth political scientist Dean Lacy’s work showing that the more federal money a county receives, the more likely it is to vote Republican. That money might not be merely food stamps or temporary aid for needy families; it might also be crop subsidies, housing payments, Medicaid and even military spending, along with the wildly popular Medicare and Social Security.
Traditionally, Republicans have protected that kind of government spending while trying to slash money for the “undeserving poor,” but Ryan wants to cut all of it (except military spending). So much of the Republican base, Lacy says, has “the luxury of voting on social issues knowing that these federal spending programs will be kept in place.” But not anymore. That’s what Ryan brings to the GOP ticket – and the gift he gives to the Democratic ticket. —continue reading from Joan Walsh, Salon’s editor at large and the author of “What’s the Matter with White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was.”