We know Paul Ryan has a little trouble keeping his facts straight (that business about running a marathon in under three hours). No one’s perfect and the Wisconsin representative no doubt has a lot on his mind as the running mate of Mitt Romney. But shouldn’t we be a little concerned when someone who gets his numbers wrong has been dubbed an intellectual — the GOP’s “intellectual center” according to Romney himself — and lauded for being both a metalhead and an egghead who “understands the federal budget better than anyone in Washington”?
Five reasons Ryan and fellow newly-appointed GOP intellectual Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Texas, are not so much idea-men as ideologues.
1. Ryan’s Proposals to Slash the Federal Deficit are Over-Simplistic and Unrealistic
Much has been made of Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal for slashing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. But Ryan would also cut the budgets for everything else – defense, infrastructure, education, food safety, energy research, national parks, civil service, the FBI — to less than 3.75 per cent of GDP by 2050.
As Ezra Klein writes on the Washington Post, “right now, that category of spending is 12.5 percent of GDP.”
Indeed, Romney has pledged that he would keep defense spending 4 percent above GDP; actually, Ryan’s plan increases defense spending in the short term.
Cuts that are “beyond draconian” would have to be made to government services to make the numbers in Ryan’s plans work. You have to wonder if he’s grasped the real implications of his numbers, not to mention the contradictions in his own plan.
2. Once a Disciple, Always a Disciple
Sure, Ryan has disavowed his allegiance to Russian emigré writer Ayn Rand after she’d been the equivalent of his guru since he read her in high school, to the point that he reportedly wanted all the interns in his congressional office to read her and gave his staff Atlas Shrugged for Christmas presents. In a 2005 speech to the Objectivist Society, Ryan said that Rand had inspired him to enter public service.
Then, in an April National Review interview, Ryan dismissed his being a Rand acolyte as an “urban legend:”
“I reject her philosophy. It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas…Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”
Many have pointed out that Ryan disowning his interest in Rand was “politically essential.” ”As a Mormon, the last thing Romney needs is to alienate the Christian Right further by putting an acolyte of an atheist on the ticket,” says The New Yorker.
But as Jennifer Burns, an assistant professor of history at Stanford University, explains, Ryan’s interpretation of Rand’s ideas suggests he should have read her writings a little more carefully. It’s not hard to see how Rand’s “advocacy of unfettered capitalism and her celebration of the individual,” would appeal to Ryan, as would her “black-and-white-worldview” of “‘producers’ who create wealth and ‘moochers’ who feed off them.” However,
While Rand, an atheist, did enjoy a good Christmas celebration for its cheerful commercialism, she would have scoffed at the idea of public service. And though Mr. Ryan’s advocacy of steep cuts in government spending would have pleased her, she would have vehemently opposed his social conservatism and hawkish foreign policy. She would have denounced Mr. Ryan as she denounced Ronald Reagan, for trying “to take us back to the Middle Ages, via the unconstitutional union of religion and politics.”
According to Rand, abortion was “a moral right which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved.”
Ryan’s views on this matter are not only contrary to Rand’s, but downright medieval.
3. Back to the Medieval Ages
Medieval thinking in today’s Republican politicians has indeed been on parade “thanks” to Missouri Representative Todd Akin’s comment that women can’t get pregnant by “legitimate” rape.”
Ryan hasn’t made quite such an ignorant pronouncement. But as Jessica Pieklo says, he “represents one of the most extreme anti-woman candidates available, having co-sponsored a federal fetal personhood bill and voted to defund Planned Parenthood (plus, he ‘wants to write discrimination into the Constitution by amending it to ban gay marriage’).”
Republicans want to make a total abortion ban part of their party platform because of just what Akin said, that “under no circumstances, not even rape, incest or when a woman’s life is in danger, should women be allowed to terminate a pregnancy is because it is a party that does not believe in personal liberty for women.”
Jennifer Tucker, an associate professor of history and science in society at Wesleyan University, writes that it is not just that Akin’s (and the GOP’s) ideas are at odds with modern science. In a New York Times op-ed, Tucker reviews how Akin’s beliefs about pregnancy are very much “in step with medieval science,” which is based on the texts of the ancient Greek medical writer Hippocrates and reproduction theories outlined by the fourth-century BCE philosopher Aristotle. According to these ideas,
Women were considered, by and large, colder and wetter than men. Men’s and women’s bodies were widely seen as having very similar equipment, just in different places. They were supposed to have similar fluids (blood, milk and semen were interchangeable, depending on their temperature conditions). And their experiences of heterosexual sex were also supposed to be similar: Both men and women had to have orgasms because it was only in that heat that new people could be conceived — women needed to experience pleasure in order for fertilization to occur. By the 13th century, in legal terms, women who were raped and became pregnant were presumed not to have been raped.
With Ryan as VP, the U.S. would become a country in which it’s literally back to the Dark Ages.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.
4. Just Because There’s Snow in Wisconsin Doesn’t Mean Global Warming Doesn’t Exist
Science is not Ryan’s forte. He is a climate change denier. As Slate observes, a 2009 op-ed by Ryan (that is on his official website) begins with a “cheap shot,” saying that global warming is a “tough sell” in Wisconsin because residents still found themselves “buried in snow” in the winter of 2009.
Ryan continues, why should we reduce carbon dioxide emissions when China and India don’t? Apparently Ryan hasn’t read about how terrible the air quality is in Beijing or that a “majority of Chinese citizens care more about cleaning up the environment than they do about growing the economy.”
Ted Cruz, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, is equally dismissive of environment regulation on industry. As Grist points out, step no. 5 of Cruz’s 12-step economic plan, “Restrain Abusive Environmental Enforcement,” is pretty much the same as that of the Chinese Communist government.
Cruz also seems to consider the Endangered Species Act” to be “a vast conspiracy” that would instead endanger industry. That’s why he has defended property developers against the arroyo toad. Grist puts it succinctly: “on environmental issues, [Cruz] sounds about as intellectual as Sarah Palin.”
Or Paul Ryan.
5. Defunding, and Dumbing Down, Higher Education
As the Chronicle of Higher Education notes, Ryan has said little about public state institutions of higher education, other than that “education ought to be governed by state and local boards more ably qualified to determine student need” than at a federal level. Federal student-aid programs would face huge cuts under Ryan’s budget proposal, which would reduce eligibility for federal Pell Grants for low-income students.
Ryan has praised for-profit colleges, overlooking the fact that the very spending cuts he is calling for could be detrimental for such schools, who receive almost 90 percent of their revenue from federal student-aid programs.
Ryan’s record on issues important to colleges and universities reveals that he sees education in distinctly practical terms. Higher education, Ryan seems to think, is about the sort of job training provided by for-profit colleges and not about research and study that can lead to knowledge and innovation. Ryan’s budget would cut spending on programs funding academic research, including the National Institutes of Health.
The arts are an easy thing to toss to the crowd because you can cherry-pick an example of something that was funded by the NEA or NEH that will sound silly to someone, even if it has tremendous value in terms of preserving folklife traditions or ensuring access to arts and culture to rural communities.
Even while Ryan talks the deficit-hawk talk (and Romney has said he would completely cut subsidies for PBS), he nonetheless appears to be one of those conservatives who “enjoy the credit for talking about shrinking government but don’t actually want to be held responsible for taking things away from people, and the arts are a convenient space for them to stake that particular ground.”
Todd Essig of Forbes writes that he was “hoping for some fun grappling with an ‘intellectual’ far-right politician” at the announcement of Ryan as GOP VP candidate. But an inquiry into Ryan’s thinking behind his policy proposals shows this to be marred by “sloppy methods” and “irrationality.” Far from being an intellectual, Ryan is an anti-intellectual as politicians can be.
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