Littwin: Paul Ryan’s serious baloney
I admit that I have a weakness for the crazy. When Tom Tancredo goes over the line, which is like every day, I’m irresistibly drawn to it. So, when he joins with Ted Nugent, the Mongrel Man, in calling Barack Obama a radical America-hater, I’m there.
And when my inbox brings me video of Bob Beauprez, in his exile period as a guest talk-show host, saying that the Obama administration has pushed the country to the edge of revolution — not metaphorical revolution, but actual, manning-the-barricades revolution — I’m forwarding the video to my friends and linking it.
But that’s just so much noise, like Mitch McConnell coming onto the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference confab on Thursday brandishing a rifle to the roar of the crowd. And, it turned out, he was just a warm-up act. Later the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre would bring the folks to a frenzy by saying, “In this uncertain world, surrounded by lies and corruption everywhere you look, there is no greater freedom than the right to survive and protect our families with all the rifles, shotguns and handguns we want!”
It’s crazy, it’s noise, and it doesn’t really mean much other than a naked appeal to the fringe who think guns really do equal freedom in the way that, say, bombs equal friendship or tanks equal lemon-meringue pie.
But there was at least one speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that wasn’t just noise and therefore was potentially far more dangerous.
It was delivered by Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ serious man, Mitt Romney’s running mate and the politician who most desperately wants to protect the poor and the near-poor from the safety net that liberals have put in place over the past few generations to rob them of their dignity. Or something.
Ryan just put out a 204-page report claiming the war on poverty has been lost, in which he cites economists and social scientists, some of whom are claiming that Ryan either misrepresented or misunderstood their work.
It’s the same Ryan who argued against long-term unemployment benefits by likening them to a “hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency, that drains them of their will and their incentive to make the most of their lives.” Or something.
In his Conservative Political Action Conference speech, he turned his theme around slightly, saying that people want to work, if only, you know, liberals would let them.
And so he says, “People don’t just want a life of comfort. They want a life of dignity. They want a life of self-determination.”
That seems pretty inarguable, but Ryan then launches into the dreaded anecdote with which to prove his point.
“The left is making a big mistake here,” he said. “What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the Cabinet of my buddy Gov. Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”
One: It turned out that the story never actually happened. People checked. The blog Wonkette thought it might have been borrowed from a book, “The Invisible Thread,” which is about the author, Laura Schroff, and her relationship with an 11-year-old homeless panhandler named Maurice Mazyck. Schroff wanted to make sure Mazyck had lunch so as not to go hungry, and the boy asked if he could have it in a brown paper bag because that’s how boys with real families got their lunch.
Anderson told this story at a congressional hearing chaired by Ryan, saying she had met the boy, just as Ryan described. But when Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post fact checker, called her office, a spokesperson said she actually had seen Mazyck, now an adult, on TV being interviewed about paper bags and lunch — and, uh, misspoke. Of course, Mazyck wasn’t talking about school lunches and had never met Anderson. When Kessler checked with Ryan’s office, Ryan’s spokesperson said he had never checked to see if the story was true before making it a centerpiece of his speech. And so …
Two: The moral that Ryan took from the story — the one that wasn’t true — is even more disturbing than the fact that it never happened. Kids who get free school lunches, Ryan suggests, don’t have families who care for them. Kids who get free or reduced-price lunches must come from families who don’t take the time or effort to buy paper bags and bologna and bread. Kids who get free or reduced-price lunches have parents who are addicted to their hammocks. Kids who get free or reduced-price lunches are robbed of something essential, so presumably, they shouldn’t get free or reduced-price lunches because keeping their dignity, or something, is more important then getting the nutrition needed in order to learn at school.
And here’s the kicker, via Kessler, in an irony that is almost too good to be true except that Kessler checked, and it is: Schroff and Mazyck — the real people in the real story — are working with a group called No Kid Hungry, which advocates for, yes, hungry kids and works to get them hooked up with federal programs like food stamps and, you guessed it, free school lunches.
Can it get any crazier than that?
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he now writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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In her column “The ‘L’ word” (Aspen Times, Jan. 16), Elizabeth Milias raises the existential question to which so many have claimed to either know or be the answer: What is a local?