Ryan’s diet of whoppers

The Covington News - - Opinion - EU­GENE ROBIN­SON

Has there ever been a more dis­hon­est pres­i­den­tial cam­paign than the one Republicans are wag­ing right now?

That’s a se­ri­ous ques­tion, and it adds poignancy to the tragi­comic spec­ta­cle of this frankly ridicu­lous gath­er­ing. The one in­dis­putable truth we hear from speaker af­ter speaker at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion is that this is a con­se­quen­tial elec­tion. The coun­try faces huge chal­lenges and fun­da­men­tal choices, and the two ma­jor par­ties have very dif­fer­ent ideas about the way for­ward.

Any­one fa­mil­iar with this col­umn knows that I pre­fer the pro­gres­sive vi­sion over the con­ser­va­tive one. But I be­lieve it’s not pos­si­ble for the na­tion to set a course with­out a vig­or­ous, hon­est de­bate — and I know there can be no such con­test of ideas with­out agree­ment on fac­tual truth.

Vice pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Paul Ryan’s speech Wed­nes­day night was an­other demon­stra­tion that he and pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney have no ap­par­ent re­spect for the truth. Rom­ney’s poll­ster, Neil Ne­w­house, boasted this week that “we’re not go­ing to let our cam­paign be dic­tated by fact-check­ers.” I’ll say.

Ryan built his ca­reer on a rep­u­ta­tion for wonk­ish im­mer­sion in the de­tails and will­ing­ness to tell un­com­fort­able truths. But in his ad­dress to the con­ven­tion, he lied and dis­sem­bled so shame­lessly that I thought I de­tected a whiff of des­per­a­tion in the air. Or maybe it was just am­bi­tion.

The whop­per with which those pesky fact-check­ers are hav­ing a field day with is Ryan’s at­tempt to blame Pres­i­dent Obama for the shut­down of a huge Gen­eral Mo­tors plant in Ryan’s home­town of Janesville, Wis. Ryan’s point of ref­er­ence was a visit Obama made to the plant dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign.

“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant,” Ryan said. “Right there at that plant, can­di­date Obama said: ‘I be­lieve that if our gov­ern­ment is there to sup­port you...this plant will be here for an­other hun­dred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last an­other year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns to­day, where the re­cov­ery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”

In other words, Obama promised to help those work­ers by keep­ing the plant open but failed to de­liver. This is a bald­faced lie.

As Glenn Kessler, au­thor of The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Fact-Checker col­umn, has noted, Obama vis­ited the Janesville plant in Fe­bru­ary of 2008. GM an­nounced the plant’s shut­down in June 2008 — five months be­fore Obama was elected and seven months be­fore he took of­fice. Ryan should be blam­ing Ge­orge W. Bush, not Barack Obama.

And tech­ni­cally, the plant isn’t even closed. It’s on “standby,” ac­cord­ing to GM, and can be re­ac­ti­vated if the de­mand for pro­duc­tion rises suf­fi­ciently.

Ryan was care­ful with his words. He didn’t spec­ify who was pres­i­dent when the plant was or­dered to cease pro­duc­tion. He de­scribed it as “locked up and empty,” rather than “closed.” But by any rea­son­able stan­dard, Ryan was be­ing de­cep­tive. He wanted his lis­ten­ers to be­lieve some­thing that sim­ply is not true.

An­other supremely dis­hon­est mo­ment was Ryan’s criticism of how Obama dealt with the Simp­son-Bowles debt panel: “He cre­ated a bi­par­ti­san debt com­mis­sion. They came back with an ur­gent re­port. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did ex­actly noth­ing.”

Lordy. Ryan failed to men­tion that he was a mem­ber of the Simp­son-Bowles com­mis­sion. He also failed to men­tion that he was part of a mi- nor­ity of panel mem­bers who flatly re­jected the “ur­gent re­port” he now blasts Obama for ig­nor­ing. That re­port, you see, en­dorsed a bal­anced ap­proach in­clud­ing not only bud­get cuts but also rev­enue in­creases. Can’t have that.

To be sure, these are not the worst of the Repub­li­can lies. For me, the ul­ti­mate dis­honor goes to the un­true charge that Obama has elim­i­nated the work re­quire­ment for wel­fare re­cip­i­ents — a lie de­signed not only to de­ceive but to stoke ra­cial re­sent­ment among work­ing-class vot­ers. There are also the cyn­i­cal and mis­lead­ing claims about Medi­care sav­ings un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. And Obama’s “You didn’t build that” line, taken out of con­text, has pro­vided the con­ven­tion’s main theme, a mantra re­cited by vir­tu­ally ev­ery speaker.

It’s hardly un­usual for politi­cians to high­light con­ve­nient facts and ig­nore in­con­ve­nient ones. But I hon­estly can’t re­call a cam­paign so firmly grounded in un­truth. Any­one who hoped Ryan might el­e­vate the de­bate should be bit­terly dis­ap­pointed.

Eu­gene Robin­son is a Pulitzer Prize win­ning colum­nist and writes for The Wash­ing­ton Post. He can be reached at eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post. com.

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