Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
Paul Ryan is a political figure of immense talent who poses a great threat to the economic security of all Americans.
I’ve seen him in action, and I’ve interviewed a lot of his constituents.
Don’t underestimate him. And look how he contrasts with Romney stylistically.
Paul Ryan is articulate where Romney is bizarrely bumbling (”The trees in Michigan are just the right height”) and endlessly self-contradictory.
Ryan is amiable and connects easily with audiences where Romney is often snappish and rarely capable of forging any bond with even small groups of people.
Ryan adopts a modest, aw-shucks style that belies his patrician roots in Janesville, while Romney almost compulsively reminds the public of his plutocratic status.
But on substance, Ryan is as cold as Romney. The Ryan plan, “Path for Prosperity,” would heap $4.6 trillion of new tax breaks on the super-rich and corporations while turning Medicare into a voucher program, privatizing Social Security, and making Medicaid essentially optional for the states. Ryan also would not allow abortions even for women who are raped or the victims of incest or whose lives are jeopardized by the pregnancy.
The mainstream media have generally done an abysmal job linking the widespread misery in his district with Ryan’s policies and votes—for the massive $1.2 trillion Bush tax cuts mostly benefiting the top 1 percent, for the financial deregulation leading to the Wall Street meltdown, the unpopular TARP bailout of the big banks, the bailout of Chrysler and GM without any link to domestic jobs, and for “free trade” deals fostering the offshoring of jobs.
And Ryan has been cruelly oblivious to the suffering in his district. The First District of Wisconsin has been rocked over the last several years by a Delco plant closing in Oak Creek that wiped out 3,800 jobs at the plant (many of the jobs went to Mexico); by Chrysler’s use of federal bailout funds in 2009 to move its last 850 remaining jobs to a new engine plant in Saltillo, Mexico; and by the closing of Janesville’s General Motors plant at Christmas, 2008.
As I wrote in my cover story for The Progressive in March of last year, “The Truth About Paul Ryan,” the consequences have been dire for his constituents.
“The three major industrial counties in Ryan’s district have endured devastating manufacturing job losses since 2000, with Kenosha County losing 30 percent, Racine County 33 percent, and Rock County an astonishing 54 percent. . . . The wave of plant closings and relocations has created dangerous ripples, including a tripling of home foreclosures since 2000. Health care needs have also exploded as thousands of families saw their coverage evaporate with a layoff or an employer decision to terminate health coverage. ‘Over the past two years, we’ve seen a 77 percent increase in the number of patients,’ reports Traci Rogers, executive director of the HealthNet free clinic in Ryan’s district.”
Foreclosures have quadrupled in Rock County over the last dozen years. And in his hometown of Janesville, child poverty has nearly doubled in the last 12 years. From 2007 to 2010, the average wage has dropped dramatically from $23.27 to $18.82. And there’s been an alarming rise in child abuse, wife beating, and suicide.
For all the suffering, Ryan has been fiercely opposed to programs for the victims of the economic crisis. He’s voted against extended unemployment benefits, the expansion of the food stamp program, improved foreclosure-prevention programs, and the S-CHIP program to provide expanded healthcare coverage.
Far from sympathizing with people who are down on their luck, Ryan showers them with disdain.
“We are at a moment,” Ryan said in his State of the Union response in 2011, “where if government’s growth is left unchecked and unchallenged . . . we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency.”
Astonishingly, Ryan says one of his favorite bands is Rage Against the Machine, which is 180 degrees from his politics. In the group’s famous song “Ghost of Tom Joad,” Rage Against the Machine sings about those with “no job, no home, no peace, no rest.”
How Paul Ryan can listen to a song like this and come away worrying that the government will be handing out hammocks to the jobless, the homeless, and hungry—who all exist in plentiful supply in his district—is beyond comprehension.
Paul Ryan is perhaps surpassed only by Marie Antoinette in his obliviousness to the human suffering taking place around him, for which he bears so much responsibility.