Paul Ryan, the credit rating and ‘post-truth politics’
Neither side in the contentious presidential race has been immune to spinning reality in its direction, but it is the Republican vice presidential nominee — Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin — who seems particularly averse to admitting when the facts don’t line up the way he wants them to.
The Atlantic’s James Fallows suggested in an essay over the weekend a couple of reasons why Ryan has taken such a flogging in the media for offering “selectively presented truth, or incomplete honesty.”
One is that Ryan presented himself as a stubborn technocrat — less political than other politicians because he cared only about the bottom line, particularly in budget matters. Therefore his misstatements, Fallows wrote, seemed more unexpected than those from “someone who is seen as a run-of-the-mill partisan.”
Then there was the matter of Ryan’s selective amnesia. He hit the Obama administration for Medicare cuts, when his budget included the same reductions. He attacked the administration’s failure to approve the Simpson-Bowles debt commission recommendations, when he rejected the same plan. He blamed the president for the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. credit, when the rating agency explicitly gave the Congress that Ryan helps lead much of the blame.
CBS’s Norah O’Donnell prompted the discussion about truthiness when she confronted Ryan on Sunday on “Face the Nation.” She noted that Ryan had sharply criticized President Obama for the same prospective defense cuts that Ryan voted for.
Yes, Vice President Joe Biden also misled. He pretended that Mitt Romney had no interest in capturing Osama bin Laden. The veep massively oversimplified what the Republicans would do to alter Medicare, suggesting they would not preserve the system “at all.”
Those were extreme interpretations, at the best, the sort of games that have caused Fallows and others to suggest we have entered an era of “post-truth politics.” But Ryan has been particularly unwilling to concede an inch, even when presented directly with the truth.
This habit seemed particularly brazen in Ryan’s post-convention interview with Scott Pelley. The CBS anchor confronted the congressman on his claim that Obama was to blame for the nation’s credit downgrade. Pelley noted that S&P; had leveled a good share of the responsibility at the Congress.
“I met with the team, I met with the Standard & Poors team. What they said is, if our Republican budget had passed it would have prevented the downgrade,” Ryan retorted. “They basically said because of the lack of leadership in Washington, political leadership, that is the downgrade.”
No one can know what the S&P; analysts told the House Budget Committee chairman in private. But we do have a record of what they said publicly. Pelley offered “for the record” to read the agency’s opinion to Ryan. Part said: “We have changed our assumptions on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues. ”
Ryan pursed his lips a bit but wouldn’t be dissuaded. “I see it a different way,” he said. “That is not my understanding from talking to them.”
So just to be clear, a public document stating the reason for the credit downgrade does not represent a fact. Documentation does not mean something can be documented. If you are Paul Ryan, why not just say you know better? Why not just create an alternate narrative?
The Pelley interview might have been a stunning moment in another time. But in the era of post-truth politics, it’s received only passing notice.
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