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December 20, 2013 2:38 PM Paul Ryan Gets Another Inexplicable Pundit Tongue Bath

By Ryan Cooper

Paul Ryan’s ability to play the more gullible of the DC pundit class like a particularly well-greased harpsichord continues to amaze. Jonathan Chait wrote on this tendency at length in early 2012, and after Ryan spent pretty much the entire 2012 campaign lying constantly, the earnest Wonk King image was somewhat tarnished. (As Harry Truman would have said: “He’s one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides.”)

But you always get another chance in Washington, and McKay Coppins is this week’s lucky winner! Apparently, Paul Ryan’s friends are super-convinced he’s really earnest about poverty:

“The clothes he wears, the shoes he wears, where he lives,” Wehner continued. “This stuff is not unimportant in life, it’s not unimportant in faith, and it’s not unimportant in politics.”
Ryan has deliberately left the cameras behind during his excursions to poor neighborhoods this year in places like Indiana and New Jersey, but the stories of his interactions with the poor somehow find a way of leaking into public view. In one anecdote related by Woodson, for example, Ryan mailed neckties to an entire classroom of teenagers after they admired the one he was wearing during his visit. It would be easy to dismiss such modest acts of kindness as fodder for a future memoir — or stump speech — but Woodson insists Ryan is sincere. “The criminal lifestyle makes you very discerning, and everywhere I’ve taken Paul, these very discerning people have given me a thumbs up,” he said. “You can’t lip synch authenticity around people like that.”

Gee, they “find a way,” wonder how that happens.

But overt PR work aside, this is the closest the piece gets to any sort of policy statement with regards to poverty. It’s structured around a possible agreement between Ryan and Pope Francis’ new poverty outreach:

Like many conservative Catholics, Ryan uses the doctrine of subsidiarity — which favors individual freedom and local governance over the power of large, central authorities — to reconcile his concern for the poor with his general suspicion of federal welfare programs. In this, Ryan has found inspiration in the teachings of Pope Francis, who said in 2009, “We cannot respond with truth to the challenge of eradicating exclusion and poverty if the poor continue to be objects, targets of the action of the state and other organizations in a paternalistic and aid-based sense, instead of subjects, where the state and society create social conditions that promote and safeguard their rights and allow them to be builders of their own destiny.”

I think it’s a massive disservice to this pope to try and cram him into the narrow confines of US political disputes. Nevertheless, it’s simply absurd to read, say, this interview, or his criticism of “trickle-down” economics and yawning income inequality, and somehow conclude he’s on board for Ryan-style gutting of the safety net.

But even if he were, then what on earth is Paul Ryan doing in Congress if he’s such a noble anti-poverty activist? If government has no role to play in poverty, as evidenced by Paul Ryan’s key role in securing cuts to food stamps, unemployment benefits, and spending generally, then why doesn’t he resign to start fundraising for a private charity?

A supporter says “you don’t dream when you’re on food stamps,” but surely even Ryan would conclude that people need to have food to eat, so they don’t die from not eating food? Or maybe he was talking about starvation-induced hallucinations.

This whole discussion is ludicrous. The obvious conclusion is that Ryan is not concerned with the poor, at all, and he is simply really good at BSing people.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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