Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), a year out from not being elected vice president, has “an ambitious new project,” according to the Washington Post. Ryan wants to steer “Republicans away from the angry, nativist inclinations of the tea party movement and toward the more inclusive vision of his mentor, the late Jack Kemp.” As part of that mission, the Post notes, Ryan “has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods” to “talk to ex-convicts and recovering addicts about the means of their salvation.” And his staff has been bouncing around “center-right think tanks” for some new ideas to include in “an anti-poverty program to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America's future in scope and ambition.”
All this is well and good, until you read on a bit into the Post piece and try and pick out a few of the “new ideas” Ryan wants to bring to his war on the war on poverty. His vision emphasizes “volunteerism and encouraging work through existing federal programs, including the tax code.” One of the ideas floated by a think tank staffer advising Ryan's team is to give “poor parents vouchers or tax credits to invest in their kids' educations.” And all of this is to be done, of course, while slashing spending on anti-poverty programs and cutting taxes for the well-off. In other words: he wants to repackage the same old Paul Ryan agenda, brushed with a fine patina of compassionate conservatism. It's all glitz and PR, and the Post ate it up.
It makes sense that Ryan would want to cultivate this image -- he'll forever be known as the running mate of Mitt Romney, the candidate who stood up in front of a room of well-heeled Republican donors and denigrated 47 percent of the country as inveterate parasites. And that's forefront in the thinking of Team Ryan, according to the Post:
Ryan has tightly controlled his public statements since the election, and he declined to be interviewed for this story. However, four advisers who worked with him on the campaign said he was mortified by Romney's 47-percent remarks. Two of those advisers said Ryan spoke directly to Romney about it in mid-September 2012, soon after Mother Jones posted a video of the $50,000-a-plate Florida fundraiser where Romney seemed to write off nearly half the population as unreachable by Republicans.
“I think he was embarrassed,” Woodson, the civil rights activist, said of Ryan. “And it propelled him to deepen his own understanding of this.”
“Mortified” ? Maybe in private. In public, Ryan was less aghast, calling Romney's comments “obviously inarticulate” but nonetheless consistent with the platform they were running on: “The point we're trying to make here is, under the Obama economy government dependency is up and economic stagnation is up.” And, of course, Ryan had fired off his own version of the “47 percent” insult a couple of years prior, saying: “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. So we're going to a majority of takers versus makers in America.” Ryan's been pitting the worthwhile “makers” against the freeloading “takers” for years now. The Post didn't mention any of that.
Nor did the article detail in any way the degree to which Ryan's much-discussed budget plans heap benefits on the wealthy while making deep and devastating cuts to programs that assist the less fortunate. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said Ryan's budget plan “would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequalcouity more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation's history).” It would gut Medicaid, leaving up to 27 million low-income Americans without health coverage, and slash food-assistance programs, which are among the most effective anti-poverty measures.
And these “new ideas” for combating poverty are stock-and-trade Republican policy positions. “Vouchers or tax credits” for education? He and most other Republicans already support that.
So what we're left with is Paul Ryan insisting that he wants to alter the public perception of the Republican Party's war on the poor without changing any policy goals. It's all PR and empty hints of change that aren't backed any substance, and the Post should have approached it with more of a critical eye.
(Image via Gage Skidmore via Creative Commons License)