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“Playing The Victim”: Paul Ryan’s Attempted Clarification On “Takers”

Paul Ryan exhibited some chutzpah today in a cry of foul play aimed at the president’s shot at those who divide Americans into “takers and makers,” which until it got him into trouble in 2012 was one of the Wisconsin Randian’s favorite rhetorical devices.

According to the Weekly Standard, Ryan went on television this morning and perhaps having read Michael Gerson’s WaPo op-ed accusing the president of creating a “raging bonfire of straw men, played the victim his own self:

Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan knocked President Barack Obama for “shadowbox[ing] a straw man” in his inaugural address. Speaking Tuesday morning on the Laura Ingraham Radio Show to guest host Raymond Arroyo, Ryan responded to Obama’s statement that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security “do not make us a nation of takers, they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

Ryan called Obama’s insinuation that he and other reform-minded Republicans consider recipients of these benefits “takers” a “switcheroo.”

“It’s kind of a convenient twist of terms to try and shadowbox a straw man to try to win an argument by default,” Ryan said.

“No one is suggesting that what we call our ‘earned entitlements’, entitlements you pay for, you know, like payroll taxes for Medicare and Social Security, are putting you in a ‘taker’ category,” Ryan continued. “The concern that people like me have been raising is we do not want to encourage a dependency culture. This is why we called for welfare reform.

Note first off that Ryan conveniently omits mentioning Medicaid in his self-defense against Obama’s alleged calumny, for the good reason that it is not an “earned entitlement” based on payroll tax deductions. For that matter, Ryan is advancing an interpretation of Medicare that he knows is completely erroneous, because over 40% of Medicare expenditures come from general revenues rather than payroll taxes or premiums. Who knows, maybe Ryan thinks Medicare beneficiaries are “takers” just three days out of every week, or is telegraphing a future intention to limit benefits to payroll taxes paid.

But in fact, Republicans deploying the taker/maker dichotomy, most especially Paul Ryan, are almost always referring to people who receive more federal government benefits, regardless of their type or justification, than they pay in federal taxes. Here’s an example from Ryan:

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said in 2010 that 60 percent of Americans receive more financial benefits from the government than they pay in taxes, making them “takers,” rather than “makers,” according to a 2010 video of Ryan speaking with Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.).

“Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes,” Ryan said. “So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that. They’ll be dependent on the government for their livelihoods [rather] than themselves.”

Ryan has been making similar statements for years. His 60 percent comment to Jones was not a one-time gaffe, but an iteration of a point Ryan has repeatedly made while arguing for his plan to replace Medicare with a voucher system.

Who’s actually engaging in a “switcheroo” here?


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 22, 2013

January 24, 2013 Posted by | Inauguration 2013, Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Ossified Movement”: Bold New Conservative Ideas Still Mostly Involve Screwing The Poor

The Republicans, we’re told, are going to have to start making some big changes if they want to start winning elections again. (Besides all the congressional elections they handily win.) Americans are tired of their stale rhetoric and old, white standard-bearers. The party needs fresh blood and bold ideas. It needs people like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a GOP rising star and highly regarded “ideas” guy.

After the election, Jindal told Politico that the Republicans had to totally rebrand themselves to escape being known as “the party of big business, big banks, big Wall Street bailouts, big corporate loopholes, big anything.” And so Bobby Jindal’s big new idea for Louisiana is … eliminating all income taxes. And shifting the tax burden onto poor and working people.

NEW ORLEANS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Republican Governor Bobby Jindal said on Thursday he wants to eliminate all Louisiana personal and corporate income taxes to simplify the state’s tax code and make it more friendly to business.

Bold! Fresh! New! But how will Louisiana get money to pay for stuff? Easy!

Political analyst John Maginnis, who on Thursday reported in his email newsletter LaPolitics Weekly that Jindal will propose balancing the tax loss by raising the sales tax, now at 4 percent, said the strategy fits with the governor’s interest in keeping a high national profile.

While we don’t yet know the sales tax rate Jindal will propose, any hike would make Louisiana’s sales tax technically higher than New York state’s, which is also 4 percent. The tax will be still greater in many Louisiana parishes, including New Orleans, where the combined sales tax rate is currently 10 percent, making it already higher than New York City’s 8.875 percent.

The thing about sales taxes is that they are inherently and extremely regressive, hitting poorer people much harder than richer people, because the poor spend a greater proportion of their income on goods subject to the sales tax than rich people do.

The Institute on Taxation and Public Policy has already whipped up a little report, and, surprise, eliminating Louisiana’s income tax and replacing it with higher sales taxes means taxing rich people much less and poor people much, much more. According to ITEP, while Louisiana millionaires would receive a tax cut of around a quarter of a million dollars, “[the] poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, those with an average income of $12,000, would see an average tax increase of $395, or 3.4 percent of their income, if no low income tax relief mechanism is offered.” (And if a low income tax relief mechanism is offered, it will have to be paid for, almost definitely on the backs of the middle 20 percent, with average incomes around $43,000.)

This is the fresh new plan from a guy regularly touted as the future of the party: A massive tax cut for rich people, in an already low-service state, paid for with a tax hike on poor people. Remember this the next time you read a story about how a major conservative figure — like Jindal or Marco Rubio or Paul Ryan — has announced that his party has to get serious about helping the poor or at least not actively hurting them: The movement these guys are products of is incapable of generating “new ideas” to help poor people, and is still dedicated to a policy agenda developed mostly before Reagan was president.

Jim DeMint is not a fresh face, but he’s the new head of the Heritage Foundation, the most influential and powerful of the conservative think tanks. Heritage’s mission is to decide the policy agenda of the conservative movement. If “new ideas” on poverty or anything else are going to gain acceptance on the right, they will likely have to come from the Heritage Foundation. And so DeMint published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post last week, laying out his agenda as the new face of the intellectual arm of the movement. It is atrocious. It is so lacking in anything resembling substance or argument that I can’t figure out why the Post published it. This is the closest it gets to an attempt at persuasion:

Conservative ideas work. Numerous states are demonstrating that low taxes, right-to-work laws, school choice, energy development and other common-sense policies improve the lives of everyone. Conversely, progressive central planning has failed throughout history and is still failing today.

OK, sure. “Conservative ideas work and liberal ideas don’t” is a very compelling message. Remember what I said about the policy agenda not changing for 30 years? The rest of the piece is mostly about welfare reform and missile defense. DeMint says Heritage will work very hard on convincing Americans that ideas like welfare reform and missile defense are good ideas. And then we’ll defeat the commies and show the Ayatollah who’s boss. Maybe we can fight a War on Drugs, too?

How’s that welfare reform working out for people, exactly? In the state of Georgia, where 300,000 families survive below the poverty line, 4,000 people are on welfare. The goal is zero people on welfare. Not “zero poor people,” but zero recipients of government benefits. Welfare reformers, whose goal is the shrinking of welfare rolls, not the aiding of impoverished people, would consider this a success story. Conservative ideas work!

The Republican Party will not “get serious” about poverty, or foreign policy or climate change or anything else, until it extracts itself from the conservative movement that rescued it after the collapse of the New Deal coalition. But there’s not a single GOP “leader” or rising star who isn’t a product of that movement through and through. They may fix their electoral problems with fresh rhetoric or new faces, but once in office they’ll govern as if nothing has changed since 1980, with disastrous results for every non-wealthy American.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, January 14, 2013

January 15, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Truth-Telling As Fascism”: Is There A Better Way To Describe What Romney’s Been Doing In This Election Cycle?

It’s getting a lot of derisive attention today, but let me add my own hilarity to the general reaction to Daniel Henninger’s Wall Street Journal column today suggesting that people in politics should never, ever, call each other “liars.” Here’s the passage being quoted most:

The Obama campaign’s resurrection of “liar” as a political tool is odious because it has such a repellent pedigree. It dates to the sleazy world of fascist and totalitarian propaganda in the 1930s. It was part of the milieu of stooges, show trials and dupes. These were people willing to say anything to defeat their opposition. Denouncing people as liars was at the center of it. The idea was never to elevate political debate but to debauch it.

The purpose of calling someone a liar then was not merely to refute their ideas or arguments. It was to nullify them, to eliminate them from participation in politics.

Um, no. The habit of 1930s totalitarians was to either (a) ignore everything enemies say and simply exclude them because of who they are, or (b) force them to confess their perfidies, the more lurid the better. The only people I know of in U.S. politics with those unsavory characteristics are typically Republicans who have been calling their opponents “un-American” for years, and/or suggesting that anyone who doesn’t accept “constitutional conservative” policy prescriptions hates the country and God Almighty. Nobody’s trying to “eliminate” Mitt Romney “from participation in politics.” The people, myself included, who have called him a “liar” have done so because he’s, you know, on a factual basis, “lied.” It’s hard to call the massive ad campaign run by Romney accusing the Obama administration of abolishing work requirements for welfare anything other than a “lie.” Since it’s not very likely that Mitt Romney fails to grasp elementary arithmetic, his repeated assertions that there are no contradictions built into his tax proposals have risen to the level of a “lie,” as well. And as readers of Brother Steve Benen know, you can go on and on and on and on.

Sometimes people on the left accuse Romney of lying when it would be possible to accuse him of “misrepresentations” or “fudging the truth” or “serial exaggeration” and so forth. But you know what? Romney’s habit of using lies to reinforce even bigger lies (e.g., his preposterous claim that his “health care plan” would take care of the uninsured just as much as Obamacare would, or his alleged interest in governing in a bipartisan manner, or his supposed independence from the Cultural Right) kind of makes me lose interest in cutting the guy any slack in theoretically close cases. And in complaining (as his running mate did earlier this week) about Democratic attacks on his integrity, Romney hardly comes into the political court of equity with clean hands, having run hatefully negative ads on both his primary and general election opponents whenever it seemed helpful to his candidacy.

But the clincher to me is that it’s not just “liberals” who think there’s something specially mendacious about Romney’s campaign: it’s what conservatives said for months when they were searching high and low for any plausible alternative to the man, and then what they said about his general-election campaign until very, very recently. Why can’t Mitt be loud and proud about his conservative agenda? they asked over and over about the policy positions he continues to hide and distort with every breath.

If Henninger or anyone else can come up with a better way of describing what Romney’s been doing in this election cycle again and again, I’m all ears. For a while I thought about calling him “Nixonian” in his byzantine twists and turns. But after a while, this became an insult to the memory of the Tricky One. In any event, don’t call those of us who have the responsibility of truth-telling about Romney and his vast, dishonest Potemkin Village of a campaign “fascist.” Nobody’s trying to silence Mitt Romney; we’d just prefer he’d unfork his tongue a lot more often. It’s exhausting just keeping up with the man’s mendacity, or whatever you choose to call his aversion to anything like straight talk.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, October 11, 2012

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Red Flags Are Flying”: Senate Candidate Tommie Thompson Wants To “Do Away With Medicare And Medicaid”

Paul Ryan admits that he’s an “end Medicare as we know it” candidate.

But, somehow, we are not supposed to think that he would actually end the popular and successful healthcare program for the elderly, as well as related Medicaid programs for the poor and people with disabilities.

The “as we know it” part provides a sort of cover, at least in the eyes of a media that is more inclined toward stenography than journalism.

Never mind that Ryan, a rabid reader of government-can-do-no-good fanatic Ayn Rand, goes positively wide-eyed when he starts talking about how desperately he wants to downsize government—and shift control of healthcare and retirement programs to the insurance and Wall Street interests that so generously fund his campaigns. We’re not supposed to talk about the long-term crony-capitalist scheme of certain Republicans to do away with government programs that work so that private sector profiteers can come in and create programs that don’t work—except for private sector profiteers.

Never mind that the Republican nominee for vice president has a long history of decrying Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in Randian terms such as “collectivist” and “socialistic.”

Never mind that Ryan has griped that “Social Security right now is a collectivist system. It’s a welfare transfer system.”

Never mind that, as recently as 2010, Ryan dismissed Medicare and Medicaid as part of a “socialist based system” that needs to be replaced.

The red flags are not supposed to go up until someone actually says they want to, you know, “do away with Medicaid and Medicare.”

Never mind that, even now, Ryan complains about how America is being overwhelmed by “takers” (citizens who claim benefits to which they are entitled) and the “welfare state” (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid).

Only when a candidate starts talking about ending entitlement programs—as in “doing away” with them—can we be serious about the immediate threat those programs actually face.

Meet Tommy Thompson, former Republican governor of Wisconsin, former Bush-Cheney administration secretary of health and human services, former candidate for the Republican nomination for president and mentor to Paul Ryan.

Speaking to a Tea Party group while campaigning for Wisconsin’s open US Senate seat, Thompson recounted how he “reformed” welfare in Wisconsin.

Back in the 1990s, Thompson said he wanted to “end welfare as we know it.” In fact, he replaced the program with a classic combination of high-government spending, lots of patronage appointments and rising poverty.

Now, Thompson has dropped the “end welfare as we know it” pretense. He brags that he finished off “one of the entitlement program.”

And he’s gunning for a couple of other entitlement programs.

Which ones?

You guessed it: Medicaid and Medicare.

Declaring that he wants to “change Medicare and Medicaid like I did welfare,” Thompson asked a May gathering of the Lake Country Area Defenders Of Liberty in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin: “Who better to and who better than me, who’s already finished one of the entitlement programs, to come up with programs to do away with Medicaid and Medicare?”

The video has only now surfaced and its a blockbuster—especially in the aftermath of the release last week of a similar video that saw Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney dismissing 47 percent of Americans as a “dependent” class unworthy of Republican consideration.

Just to repeat: a top Republican Senate candidate has been caught on video talking about how he would “DO AWAY WITH MEDICAID, AND MEDICARE.”


It should be understood that Thompson is no fringe-dwelling Todd Akin. As the longtime Republican governor of a swing state, he’s worked with every GOP president since Ronald Reagan, and he oversaw social programs for the Bush-Cheney administration. This year, he’s one of his party’s premier recruits in the fight to retake the Senate. Indeed, the race between Thompson and Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin could decide which party controls the chamber.

Thompson is, as well, closely aligned with Paul Ryan. The Senate candidate’s ties to Ryan’s politically connected family go back to when the Republican vice presidential nominee was a child. Thompson has been a Ryan booster from the very beginning of the younger Wisconsinite’s career in electoral politics—when Thompson was the powerful governor of the state and Ryan was organizing his first Congressional bid.

When Thompson joined the Bush-Cheney Cabinet, he and Ryan kept regular company in Washington. They look forward to working together when Thompson becomes the point man on entitlement debates in a Republican-controlled Senate and Ryan is the Romney White House’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill.

The voters will have something to say about that, however.

If they want to preserve Medicaid and Medicare, they will remember that, while Ryan may add the “as we know it” spin, Thompson gets to the heart of the matter when he says it is the intention of these “reformers” to “do away with Medicaid and Medicare.”


By: John Nichols, The Nation, September 24, 2012

September 26, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Eye Of The Storm”: The Sudden Disappearance Of The Welfare Lie

It began on August 7. The Romney campaign launched a major offensive on welfare policy, accusing President Obama of “gutting” existing law and “dropping work requirements.”

The attack was as obvious a lie as has ever been spoken by a presidential candidate. Mitt Romney had made this up, but proceeded to repeat the lie in every stump speech, and in five separate ads released over the course of two weeks. This one, racially-charged, entirely-made-up claim had quickly become the centerpiece of the entire Republican campaign.

And then something interesting happened. It disappeared.

Sahil Kapur reported the other day that Romney, in his convention address, chose not to repeat the lie, and the claim wasn’t included in Paul Ryan’s convention speech, either. When I checked the transcripts for Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Condoleezza Rice, and Jeb Bush, not one of them made even the slightest reference to the welfare lie.

But wait, there’s more. Romney has given three speeches since his convention address, delivering remarks in Lakeland, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati. The combined total of references to welfare in those speeches? Zero.

Also, I spoke this morning with a Democratic source who confirmed that the Romney campaign’s television ad featuring the welfare lie is not currently on the air.

So, over the course of about a week, this one transparent falsehood went from being the most potent attack in the Republican arsenal to a lie Romney and his team suddenly didn’t want to repeat.

What happened? For now, we can only speculate — the campaign has not explained the shift — but I wonder whether the allegations of racism started to take a toll.

Not only had every independent analysis proven that Romney was blatantly lying, but there was a growing consensus that the Republican was deliberately trying to exploit racism to advance his ambitions.

On Wednesday, the day before Romney’s speech, National Journal‘s Ron Fournier wrote a lengthy piece making clear that the GOP candidate has been playing a carefully-crafted racial game, and given Fournier’s credibility with the political establishment, his analysis was widely noticed, and raised questions anew about how far the former governor would go to base his campaign on an ugly, divisive deception.

It’s quite possible Romney found it easier to switch to other falsehoods, rather than risk alienating the American mainstream by sticking with his racist lie.

Or maybe I have this backwards and this is merely the eye of the storm. Romney will reportedly launch its next round of ad buys tomorrow, and maybe the welfare lie will be up front and center once again. As of today, however, the absence of the lie is hard to miss, given how invested Republicans were in the false accusation a week ago.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 4, 2012

September 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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