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Friday, 7 September 2012

Before being selected as the Republicans’ Vice Presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin had grown a reputation as a truth-teller. A guy who knows numbers in particular. His budget proposals as head of the House Budget Committee have basically defined recent Republican policy outside the social sphere.

But when Ryan delivered his speech at the Republican National Convention, observers immediately judged it as deceptive and dishonest in many ways. Middlegirl at the Daily Kos has been rounding up all those refutations. The most interesting, I think, is Ezra Klein’s anguished column in the Washington Post, because he clearly hoped things would be different.

Likewise, David Brooks of the New York Times spoke highly of Ryan on 22 August, but after the speech resorted to blaming speechwriters: “If you’ve got a guy famous for truth-telling, why feed him a bunch of semi-deceptions?”

In the same vein, Roger Ebert opined that the problem with Clint Eastwood’s convention talk was that party operatives had pushed him to hit certain talking-points. That analysis based on past friendship looks like a way to get around the simpler explanation that Eastwood is a cranky opponent of the President who’s happy to project his own hostile feelings onto an empty chair.

Similarly, Brooks’s claim that Ryan was “famous for truth-telling” misses the question of whether Ryan ever deserved that reputation, even by Washington standards. Careful observers had already noted that Ryan’s bold proposals actually contained a lot of fudges and blanks. His budgets were based on unrealistic expectations, and they never specified where he’d cut programs to reach his fiscal goals.

Well before his convention speech Ryan was complaining that President Obama’s stimulus package was too big while also asking for more funds for his own district. He did the same with the Affordable Care Act. And despite lauding the free market, Ryan lobbied to bend the auto bailout his way.

Ryan could have argued against Obama’s policies while telling the whole truth. But he hasn’t done that for a long time. For years he’s criticized the President for not supporting the Bowles-Simpson commission’s recommendations without acknowledging that he himself had already rejected that report and pulled the whole Republican House along with him.

With the increased coverage and scrutiny of a national campaign, Ryan has now had to retract a claim about his marathon time, which in turn forced him to devote time to substantiating a claim about mountain-climbing. Those are private matters, but easily understood, and they’ve helped shred his reputation as a truth-teller—especially about numbers.

To tell the real truth, Ryan never deserved that reputation. He discovered his budget-balancing zeal at almost exactly the moment President George W. Bush was being replaced by President Barack Obama. Was his turnaround truly newfound fiscal honesty or just OIP Derangement Syndrome?

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