Pretend Wonk Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0Jonathan Chait caught something important buried in a long (pay-walled) report in Congressional Quarterly, You’ll Never Guess What Just Happened to Paul Ryan’s Promise to Tackle Poverty. It seems that Ryan’s new budget will contain policy proposals that he supposedly researched in his 204-page poverty report. Chait is one of the most insightful writers when it comes to Ryan, and he concludes that the problem is just that Ryan (along with his Republicans colleagues) has irreconcilable contradictions.

I am not inclined to be so nice. To me, Ryan’s poverty report was no kind of honest look at the research on poverty. It was an effort at propaganda. He went through all the research with no intention but to show that poverty programs don’t work and to argue that the best thing for the poor is to abandon them. Chait even mentioned this, saying that “it used selective, one-sided methods to indict the safety net.” There was no way that when Ryan started work on his report that he was going to find that safety net programs work.

The whole thing reminds me of those cargo cult tribes. After World War II, the people built replicas of airplanes and other things associated with war activity to bring back the cargo. Understandably, they were confused about correlation and causation. We get the same thing from Paul Ryan. Serious people study issues and write reports. He wants to be seen as serious so he goes through the motions of doing serious work.

Cargo CultImage via Atlas Obscura

That’s the thing about all of Paul Ryan’s supposed “wonkery.” Long ago, he decided that his budgets and reports didn’t need to add up or make sense. It is just the idea that he has a plan that impresses the reporters. And indeed, his budgets are not only cruel to the poor, they would be catastrophic for the economy. But they were applauded in the media. And it’s the same thing with his poverty report. The media treated it as though Ryan were seriously looking at the issue of poverty rather than simply justifying his hostility toward poor people.

So it is not so much that Ryan’s commitments to military spending and tax cuts trump poverty elimination. Rather, Ryan’s current interest in poverty is only for the purpose of coming up with justification for cutting it. So his new budget does deal with poverty. As Chait noted, “At least two thirds of the cuts in last year’s Ryan plan come from programs for poor people.” From Paul Ryan’s perspective, that is a poverty program! Because what the poor really need is a kick in the butt, not a helping hand. And that goes double for those freeloading kids.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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