Paul Davis Ryan – Michael Smith in the US
Paul Ryan Davis was born in 1970 in Janesville, Wisconsin, the youngest of Paul Senior and Betty Ryan’s four children. Sharing the same first name as his father, Ryan’s childhood nickname was “PD” Ryan, and indeed he lives up to his initials. He was raised a Catholic. At high school, as well as being a keen skier and a big fan, he will tell you, of Led Zeppelin, he played Rhett Butler in the school’s 1988 Gone With The Wind-themed prom, and was indeed prom king, which – in the US – has no negative implications for future political machismo.
Ryan’s father’s sudden death in 1986 provided him with social security benefits until his 18th birthday, which he used, along with money he earned frying burgers in McDonald’s, to pay for his education at Miami University of Ohio.
When he was not formulating his political philosophy, Ryan spent his summers working for a meat processing company, driving around in one of its Wienermobiles, a trademark car, shaped liked a hot dog in a bun. Frat boy Ryan graduated in 1992 in economics and political science.
He then worked as a marketing consultant for his family’s business, Ryan Inc, a construction firm founded by his great-grandfather in 1884. Ryan also owns a consulting firm, and worked as an aide to former Senator Robert Kasten. This whetted his appetite for politics, and in 1995, Ryan became Senator Sam Brownback’s legislative director, until 1997. Ryan also worked as a speechwriter for former drug “czar” William Bennett and helped George H W Bush’s housing secretary, conservative supply-sider Jack Kemp in his bid for the vice-presidency in the 1996 election, where he ran beside presidential nominee, Bob Dole.
Spending a large amount of his time serving his constituents in Washington, Ryan met his future wife, tax attorney Janna Little. An Oklahoma native, Little graduated from Wellesley College, alma mater of Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Allbright, and from George Washington University Law School. Ryan benefits from a trust worth between $1 million and $5 million, which generated between $100,000 and $1 million in income last year. The trust was part of his well-appointed wife’s family inheritance.
In 1998 Ryan decided to run as a Republican for Wisconsin’s first House District. Despite the heavily Democratic demographic of his home district, Ryan ran as a conservative in 1998 and won.
At 28 he became its second-youngest member. One of the first moves Ryan made as a Congressman was to convert an old truck into an office so he could maintain office hours in the far reaches of his district.
As a ranking Member of the Committee on the Budget, Ryan wrote “A Roadmap for America’s Future” a comprehensive grand plan to balance the US budget – chimerical as far as most of Washington is concerned – by 2040. It involves slashing spending on food subsidies for the poor, and limiting Medicare health provision for older people, as well as cutting tax rates for the wealthy – to encourage wealth creation. The Congressional Budget Office, which knows about these things, says the plan would savage virtually every government programme apart from social security, health care and the armed forces. Yet many conservatives remain supportive of it – nobody else in Washington is saying how they will tackle America’s terrifying $16 trillion debt.
At just 42 he has won six straight victories for the House in Wisconsin. It was during his last term that he began to emerge as a shiny new ideological face for the Republican Party. Solidly middle-class, healthy and allegedly a good if untutored speaker, and – for all his craggy politics (and chin) – a normal kind of guy, Ryan crucially ticks the boxes that overlaundered Romney has failed to.
Perhaps because the press is so bored with Romney, Ryan has been able to establish a clear biography centring on the dead father whom he found as a 16-year-old.
In keeping with his fetish for unusually frugal – and public – lifestyle choices, Ryan sleeps on a ‘cot’ in his office and rises, like a Spartan, at 6.30, to maximise the time he can spend with his splendid family; he does the P90X body sculpting work-out – which gives him his famous ‘discipline’, still listens to heavy metal and has said, because it goes down well in Mousse-flagellating Wisconsin, that cheese and beer run in his veins. Indeed the hyper-athletic congressman, known for pushing admiring Friedmanite fellow Republicans during those gruelling morning work-outs, said he had completed a Marathon race in “two-hours, fifty-something”. Later it emerged he’d taken a little over four hours, not quite as remarkable. Ryan’s ancestors came from Co Kilkenny and he looks like an angular cross between Éamon Ryan, Sylvester Stallone and, we’re afraid, Paul’s own wife, Jenna.
According to Ezra Klein of the Washington Post, Ryan’s rise was orchestrated by President Obama. The White House wanted to elevate Ryan so Obama could run against his conservative and draconian (as it would be portrayed) budget. On the other hand, Niall Ferguson says, “one thing is clear. Ryan psychs Obama out. This has been apparent ever since the White House went on the offensive against Ryan in the spring of last year. And the reason he psychs him out is that, unlike Obama, Ryan has a plan – as opposed to a narrative – for this country”.
More outdoorsishly, Rush Limbaugh hails Ryan as “the last Boy Scout” and believes that “We now have somebody on the ticket who’s us”. Fox News can’t get enough of him.
Ryan is a devotee of libertarian Ayn Rand. “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism”, Ryan told the Atlas Society in 2005. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand”. They like to hear that sort of thing. He disseminated copies of ‘Atlas Shrugged’, Rand’s epic novel, to staffers for Christmas. Rand – who died in 1982 – espoused a laissez-faire anti-Government creed she called Objectivism.
Yet caught between flip and flop, earlier this year Ryan despairingly resiled: “I reject her philosophy. … It’s an atheist philosophy… give me Thomas Aquinas. Don’t give me Ayn Rand”.
Ryan is regarded by both supporters and detractors as a man of substance, who delights in spelling out exactly what he wants to do – devoted to causes on which he is unwilling to compromise (though they disagree vehemently on whether the causes are good or bad). If so, substance has been to the detriment of efficacy. In his 13 years as a legislator he hasn’t done much legislating. He has sponsored 71 bills but only two have become law: one renaming a post office in his district, the other reducing the tax on arrow shafts.
Worse still, now he is on the Romney ticket he is adulterating some of his ‘substance’ to embrace the insipid Utah man’s effete platform. When he was put on the ticket, Ryan had an aggressive record of fighting against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. But he told reporters he would abide by Romney’s view that abortions should be allowed in cases of rape and incest. The former meat-eater lamely described Romney’s position on abortion as “a vast improvement of where we are right now”.
Ryan’s budget proposed the same $716 billion in 10-year Medicare savings that President Obama did in his healthcare law. But Romney is now saying he’ll restore those payments to healthcare providers and Ryan, like a wuss, is echoing his master’s attacks.
He has a reputation for straight-talking. But after he falsely accused Obama of closing a Wisconsin car-making factory, Neil Newhouse – Romney’s top pollster, was derided for saying that the campaign would not be “dictated to by fact-checkers”.
Ryanomics too may be a con job. According to New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, “on the tax side, Ryan proposes big cuts in tax rates on top income brackets and corporations… and the revenue loss from these cuts comes to $4.3 trillion over the next decade. On the spending side, Ryan proposes huge cuts in Medicaid. That saves about $800 billion. He proposes similar harsh cuts in food stamps, saving a further $130 billion or so, plus a grab-bag of other cuts, such as reduced aid to college students. Let’s be generous and say that all these cuts would save $1 trillion. On top of this, Ryan includes the $716 billion in Medicare savings that are part of Obamacare, even though he wants to scrap everything else in that act.
So if we add up Ryan’s specific proposals, we have $4.3 trillion in tax cuts, partially offset by about $1.7 trillion in spending cuts – with the tax cuts, surprise, disproportionately benefiting the top 1 per cent, while the spending cuts would primarily come at the expense of low-income families. Overall, the effect would be to increase the deficit by about $2.5 trillion.
Yet Ryan claims to be a deficit hawk…What Ryan actually offers, then, are specific proposals that would sharply increase the deficit, plus an assertion that he has secret tax and spending plans that he refuses to share with us, but which will turn his overall plan into deficit reduction”.
Inconveniently too, despite his reputation for anal fiscal rectitude, he supported every George W Bush financial bill ever submitted, including two unfunded wars, their great Medicare Black Hole, his unfunded, profligate Tax Breaks, and the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
It is widely held that while Romney might be the Republicans’ Presidential candidate, Ryan is its leader: a thought leader, a potential ‘prime minister’. Maureen Dowd wrote that she’d “been wondering how long it would take Republicans to realise that Paul Ryan is their guy”. But she doesn’t like what she sees. “He’s the cutest package that cruelty ever came in. He has a winning air of sad cheerfulness. He’s affable and clean-cut, with the Irish altar-boy widow’s peak and droopy, winsome blue eyes and unashamed sentimentality. Who better to rain misery upon the heads of millions of Americans?”.
While Mitt Romney is possibly the most boring – and most cautious – man who has run for the White House in decades, his running mate’s appeal is that he is neither. But he is not a rightist Superman. Ryan’s true constituency is the conservative commentariat, which years ago decided that he was the Honest, Serious Conservative they had been seeking, whose proposals deserve respect even if you don’t like him. But he isn’t and they don’t. Like a three-hand card trick, Ryan, far from being a triumph of substance over style, is in fact a triumph of style. And of Fox News.