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August 24th, 2012
Freethought San Marcos: What’s conservative about Paul Ryan?

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

Glenn Greenwald did a masterful job for Salon.com the other day outlining much of the evidence that demonstrates Paul Ryan has not acted to constrain government spending, nor to constrain the government during his time in office. For over a decade, Ryan has voted for the expansion of federal debt and the restriction of individual liberty almost every time he had a chance to do so. How is such a person a conservative?

As Greenwald explains, Ryan presents himself as an Ayn Rand “Super-Hero of Individual Self-Reliance and Working Class Warrior against government debt, waste, and intrusiveness – whose actual life is a testament to the precise opposite values.”

Ryan managed to go to college after receiving Social Security survivor’s benefits through his high school years after his father died at an early age, benefits which he claims he saved up to pay for college. As Joan Walsh explained recently in Salon magazine, Ryan has “become the scourge of the welfare state, a man wholly supported by government who preaches against the evils of government support,” and he has become famous for “trying to dismantle the very program that helped him go to the college of his choice.”

After receiving a B.A. with a double major in economics and political science from Miami University of Ohio, he spent a few years on the payroll of several politicians and right-wing think-tanks. Occasionally, in the years before he became a Congressman at age 28, Ryan worked briefly for the family-owned construction business when he needed money.

Ryan seems incapable of acknowledging that government is a collective endeavor to cobble together a system that will make possible economic and social endeavors that can make life fulfilling for all the people. That’s the promise of our Constitution and the government it created. But Ryan has tried to fashion an image of himself as a self-made man who wants government to go away because it is not needed.

I recognized shortly after graduating from the college of my choice that I was able to go to college because of the sacrifices made by my parents, the excellent public school system I attended, the public transportation system that took me to school for several years, the public library I used regularly while in high school, the public roads over which I traveled to get to college and return home to visit my parents, the public postal system that allowed me to stay in contact with my family (and receive occasional checks for incidentals), the air traffic control system that looked out for my safety when I flew in an airplane, and the myriad other programs established for the safety of all Americans – food safety, water purity, air pollution control, mosquito eradication (particularly important where I grew up), flood control, fire protection, and police protection.

It was about the same time that I learned about the large sums of crop support payments paid to farmers in the county where I worked – payments that no one referred to as welfare, while assistance for other people was frowned upon and derided. I realized that all such government assistance was part of an effort to equal the playing field and create a fairer system so that the entire nation could prosper, no matter what personal circumstances or natural events interfered. Obviously, there were abuses – it’s a system organized and operated by humans whose natures need to have some controls. Some people who received assistance did not need it, but the basic idea was to create a system that acknowledged that we were all in this together, and if we worked together, helping one another when needed, we would all be better for it. However, that spirit of cooperation was not infused in everyone equally.

Many years later I began figuring out that the tax system was rigged for the benefit of the wealthiest among us. All during this time when I was working, I paid payroll taxes on my entire salary to support the Social Security and Medicare system, but higher-paid workers did not have to pay those same taxes on much of their income. We allow major industries, such as the coal, oil, and natural gas companies to produce their products or conduct their businesses in ways that pollute our environment and leave the taxpayers to pay for the costs of environmental cleanup and health care for people damaged by pollution.

In a 2005 report, the National Research Council (NRC) estimates that the hidden costs of energy production that year were $120 billion. Economists refer to these costs as external costs, including the economic effects to human health, structural damage, and the reduction in harvests caused by air pollution. As the study explained, these external costs are hidden “because they are not reflected in the market prices of coal, oil, other energy sources, or the electricity and gasoline produced from them. Health damage from air pollution associated with electricity generation and motor vehicle transportation was found to be the largest single impact.”

During the 1960s and 1970s, my government spent nearly $600 billion to fight a war in Southeast Asia, a war that I did not support; but I was compelled to pay for it under threat of losing what little property I owned. The same sort of politicians who voted for the Vietnam War also voted for Bush’s two wars that have been continued under Obama and have cost the taxpayers about $130 trillion to date. Ryan has supported all of these expenditures as a Congressman and wants to spend even more on defense in the years to come. His support for wars and interventions overseas suggest an extremist view about the role of the US in the world, believing that American Exceptionalism gives us the right to tell the rest of the world how to act. In what way are these the actions of a fiscal conservative, or any kind of conservative?

Ryan voted for the expansion of Medicare to pay for prescription drugs (in a way that favored the pharmaceutical industry) and for the Wall Street and bank bailouts at the end of Bush’s second term. In fact, Ryan seems to have no problem with propping up the too-big-to-fail banks with an annual $60 billion subsidy, while extolling the virtues of the Free Enterprise system. Also, Ryan is all for the government-sponsored patent system that gives pharmaceutical companies 20-year patents on prescription drugs. Dean Baker reports that these government-created monopolies cost taxpayers $270 billion more a year than they would pay in a free market system, and that there are efficient alternatives to financing drug research (see the Center for Economic and Policy Research report authored by Baker in 2004). In what way are these the actions of a fiscal conservative?

When it comes to restraining the power of the federal government, Ryan can always be counted on to support the government and diminish the liberty of all citizens. He voted for the original PATRIOT Act, its later modifications, and then to make its intrusive government powers permanent. He voted for the Military Commissions Act, which provides indefinite detention apparently for both resident aliens and US citizens, who can be denied the Constitutional right of habeas corpus under the Act – the right to have a court compel the government to justify its detention of such people. Ryan voted for the Protect America Act of 2007 to expand the power of the government to eavesdrop on Americans without court authorization for up to one year if the conversation involves talking to a person “reasonably believed to be outside the United States.”  In what way are these the actions of someone who wants to restrict the power of the federal government?

Ryan has voted to deny same-sex couples the right to marry or to adopt children. He wanted to continue the military policy of discriminating against gays in the military. He wanted a Constitutional amendment to make flag-burning a crime. He favors the restriction of abortion rights, even supporting criminally prosecuting women who have an abortion. He has sponsored legislation to give a fertilized egg the constitutional rights of a person, though millions are destroyed nationally each year in the normal process of nature, making such a declaration irrelevant and foolish. His legislation would criminalize in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control. In what way are these the actions of someone who wants to restrict the power of the federal government?

Ryan claims to be an Ayn Rand libertarian, but he opposes medical marijuana and needle-exchange programs to reduce the spread of diseases among drug addicts. He opposes all drug use, including recreational marijuana. As Congressman Barney Frank said two years ago in a discussion with Ryan and George Will, it should be an embarrassment to conservatives that they want to tell people whom they can have sex with, whom they can marry, what they can read, what they can smoke. Frank ended the discussion with the observation, “It’s the conservatives who want to intrude on personal liberty.”

As Glenn Greenwald recently concluded, “Whatever one wants to say about Ryan’s record, it is the very opposite of constraining the power of the federal government to intrude into the lives of individuals; indeed, it’s a testament to massive expansion of intrusive federal government power in almost every realm.”

While I am not happy with how President Obama has handled many of these same issues, it seems plain to me that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s pick for his vice-presidential running mate, is an extremist on issues of restricting personal liberty and using government to benefit the wealthy to the detriment of middle- and low-income families, and he is a hypocrite when it comes to fiscal conservatism. His views about America’s role in the world can fairly be described as megalomaniacal – an all too common view among many, if not most, Americans, who seem to believe that America has the right to do anything, anywhere.

I agree with Ryan that our government needs to change its ways. But the change Ryan wants will take us further from a government that honors the purpose of our Constitution:  “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. . .”  Ryan would diminish justice in an already harsh system, destroy the minimal economic supports provided for our most disadvantaged citizens, engage in more interventionist wars abroad, push the government to provide more benefits for the wealthy to the exclusion of all others, and further constrain our liberties. To call Ryan’s political goals “free market conservatism” is Doublespeak at its most dishonest and shameful.


© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.

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21 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: What’s conservative about Paul Ryan?

  1. It should not surprise anybody I support Mr. Ryan. That is not what is important, what is important is to remember Mr. Ryan is NOT running for President. But since we are talking about Vice President’s, Joe Biden?

  2. It surprises me because, while I might have disagreed with you on some issues over the years, I never considered you an extremist. Paul Ryan is an extremist, though he tries to hide it behind his frat-boy mien. Barry Goldwater, a politician whom I admired, made one fatal mistake in his run for the presidency – he labeled himself an extremist. American voters generally don’t like extremists, whether of the right or of the left.

  3. Ryan may not be running for president, but he’ll be next in line should Romney win the election. The main point to take away from this article is that he really does embody the current views of the entire Republican party. By choosing this running mate, Romney has revealed that he also supports this extremist, misogynist platform, no matter what else he may say during his campaign.

    I may not be 100% happy with Obama, but he’s getting my vote. The alternative is too frightening!!

  4. Using masterful and salon.com together in the first sentence through doubt on everything that followed.

  5. I agree with all that Lamar said – I wish that I had the ability to say it as well as he did. As I’ve said before on this “blog”, I was a Republican all my life until the 2nd year of George W.’s first term. About then I began to realize that the Republican positions had moved to being all about the desires of the wealthy at the expense of the “lower” classes.
    I’m not a Democrat and I also am not happy with Pres. Obama’s performance in several areas – healthcare for one. But in this presidential election only Obama or Romney can win – and I cannot vote for Romney or any other Republicans who are determined to gut the middle class. So, I’ll pinch my nose as I mark my ballot for the Democrats. We will not survive as a nation if we elect more Republicans to Washington.

  6. Whether it’s legitimate/force-able rape or unpaid for wars and tax cuts, Republicans and particularly Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney offer nothing new for women, African-Americans, gays, the middle class, the poor, young people, the military or the economy. The very rich and corporations only care about themselves, and they have their chosen mouth pieces with Romney and Ryan. While I generally like the idea of smaller government, the fact that the Republicans want the government to follow every pregnancy in the U.S. to term and jail abortion doctors, rape victims, and 12 million illegal aliens in the process, makes me question their “small government” claims , as well as their compassion for others. Their refusal to accept gay people as people also makes me question Republicans ability to love their neighbors as themselves. Their rallies certainly don’t look like the America I live in or want to live in. Our diversity makes us stronger, not weaker.

  7. It’s OK – we elected a President last time who is a political extremist who had never done anything of any significance prior to being elected.

    How that that worked out for America?

    I figure a VP who (if you believe Hankins – and I’m not saying I do) fits the same description this time around wouldn’t be such a big deal.

  8. It’s that million plus the “fiscal conservative” took while doing nothing that bothers me. And D, just exactly what has Mitt done, besides work the system to within an inch of its life to save paying taxes?

    Ain’t an O fan, but damn, can’t the GOP do better?

  9. Ugh. That tired old “Romney’s taxes” argument? I expect better from you.

    Romney is just operating within the rules of the system that we have. It’s not his fault that preferential tax rates are given to capital gains or that deferred compensation agreements are allowable under current tax law.

    Personally, I wouldn’t think much of a candidate who didn’t utilize the tax laws to their fullest legal extent and as a result paid more taxes than they had to….that’s just dumb.

    Believe me, had Obama ever had a real job before taking public office, he would have CPAs and attorneys who would have him in the same place Romney is in.

  10. Much of Romney’s campaign hinges on a promise to see the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) repealed and supposedly replaced with something superior.

    The trouble with that notion is that Romney will not wade into the waters of remaking Medicare and Medicaid during his first term, and the Republican House will be just as reticent. That’s because any healthcare solution, no matter its provisions, will be exceedingly unpopular. Everyone recognizes things have to change, but no one likes what change looks like.

    As someone who buys his family’s health insurance on the private market, I can tell you that the system is horribly, terribly broken — and it’s mystifying to me that anyone except the highest earners can even afford private health insurance. (Until we raised our annual deductible to $10,000, our premiums were more than $1,000 a month — and we’re healthy, non-smoking, non-drinking people who exercise daily.)

    This is the true cost of health insurance, but Americans don’t see it because roughly 6 in 10 are covered by employer-sponsored healthcare. But when people lose their jobs or when employers discontinue their health insurance subsidies, as they had been for over a decade before Obama took office, those workers will be left to fend for themselves in this glorious competitive health insurance market that the right so loves to tout.

    Well, that market is anything competitive my friends. It’s a cancer of a marketplace where companies sell something people can’t live without, and at prices that ensure massive profits. The notion of competitive pricing is a fantasy. I am not against profits — God knows I work hard to maximize mine — but let’s stop all the rhetoric about how Obamacare kills jobs and shutters companies. Don’t take my word for it: here’s a Bloomberg analysis that lays it all out: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-05/health-insurer-profit-rises-as-obama-s-health-law-supplies-revenue-boost.html

    And for small business owners like myself, many of the provisions of Obamacare are absolute godsends. I just wish we could get that Texas health insurance exchange up and running sooner. But Rick Perry cares more about keeping his Tea Party bona fides than the ability of business owners like me to acquire affordable healthcare.

    I’m actually a small-government guy. But healthcare is not a typical problem, and it requires an atypical solution if we’re to solve it. The market has had decades to show its stuff — DECADES, people — and the stuff we’ve seen from it is awful.

    The reality is that today’s Republican party doesn’t care anything about small business owners like me. It doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about “hardworking American families,” the middle class, or any of it. It cares about cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans under the specious argument that if Paris Hilton’s parents enjoy a lower income tax rate they will hire more people.

    They won’t. They’ll buy more yachts. And that’s great for yacht builders, but I don’t see it moving the needle substantially on unemployment.

    This is no longer the party of Reagan. It’s not even the party of George H.W. Bush. In fact, I’d argue that it isn’t the party of George W. Bush, since he at least was willing to take a reasonable position on illegal immigration.

    The capacity to be reasonable….that’s what’s missing from the Republican party today.

    Obama is far from perfect. But I can’t imagine the House we have today with a Republican administration worried about mollifying the Tea Party. Talk about a disaster.

  11. He is by the conservative thought of a smaller federal government by reducing the redundancy of the regulatory agencies and the regulations that clog and in most cases impede or in fact stop forward progress. These agencies affect every business and group across the board, including the clogged bureaucracy that is killing the ability to get affordable health care.

  12. I want to make a last point about healthcare. It’s about the specter of healthcare rationing under Obamacare.

    This argument has bothered me for some time, because people seem utterly blind to how their care is being rationed every minute of every day — not by the government, but by the companies to whom we gladly pay premiums.

    If you’ve ever known anyone who has had treatments or procedures denied by insurance companies, or who has fought mightily to have their insurer cover care that their policies were supposed to cover, or who were forced by their insurer to leave the hospital or nursing home before they were ready, or who have seen their insurance policy rescinded after they got sick, then you are witnessing rationing in action.

    I fail to see why rationing by the government is vastly more distasteful than rationing by a corporation that collects your money, then denies you service, and then posts billions in profits.

  13. Dano, please answer the question, what has Mitt done? The blockers are iffy at best legally. How pray tell did he amass a 2M IRA account? (which by the way is a minimum figure, some have it at well in excess of $100M)

    Lee, sorry, but your post is nonsensical. What exactly have either Romney or Ryan accomplished that has reduced government? Given that the best Ryan has to offer is changing the name of a post office, you have a lot of work to do.

  14. Winchester, I don’t understand your question. Mitt Romney’s achievements are well-known and either you’re playing really, really dumb or you’ve already decided they don’t matter to you. Either way, I don’t see the point in listing out his accomplishments point by point because a trip to Wiki would do that just as well.

    The issues regarding his tax returns and tax planning strategies are a non-starter. Anyone who understands the US Tax Code will confirm that he’s just doing what any intelligent person would do – minimizing his tax burden using whatever avenues the Code will allow.

    For now, let’s just say that anyone who can amass a multi-million dollar IRA account is probably doing something right. I don’t want to tear that guy down, I want to be like that when I grow up.

    All political ideologies aside (not that you can realistically do that), I would vote for Mitt Romney, successful businessman over Barack Obama, attorney and career politician any day of the week.

  15. I agree with Dano that the Romney tax stuff is a non-starter. My effective tax rate was was well below Romney’s for tax year 2011, and all I did was complete my taxes through TurboTax and then have a CPA eyeball my return, deeming it “clean as a whistle.”

    Spotlighting a 15 or 13 percent effective tax rate is an effective cudgel for Demos to beat on Romney, but it’s a disingenuous one. Most Americans pay an effective tax rate of about 11 percent; they simply don’t realize it. What they focus on is their tax bracket. They’re two different numbers. (http://www.usatoday.com/money/perfi/taxes/story/2012-01-19/romney-tax-rate/52682372/1)

    I’ll say, however, that Romney doesn’t help his case by refusing to release his returns. I suppose there are all kinds of well-crafted tax minimization techniques at work in his taxes, and if I were him, I’d do the same. Legally minimizing your tax bill is not a crime — legal, moral or otherwise. And if we don’t like the loopholes that wealthy people and corporations employ to lower their taxes, then we should elect people who will get rid of them.

  16. Dano,

    You might as well give up. Some people out there have closed their minds and refuse to either listen to reason, learn anything new, or refuse to ever admit they are just plain wrong. But, thanks for trying.

  17. I made an error in the 12th paragraph of this column (What’s Conservative About Paul Ryan?) about the cost of the Middle East wars. The figure should be $3.7 trillion, not $130 trillion, according to Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. I don’t know how I messed up that figure, but I wanted to correct it. I’ll try to be more careful in my fact-checking and editing.

  18. I can only hope that this list of libs are all that exist in this great state of Texas. How some people are content to let someone else run most aspects of their lives is mind boggling. I for one choose to put my faith in someone that doesn’t blame their short comings on others, but choose to accept the responsibility of their own actions. I would vote for a stuffed toy over Obama. I’m sure there are plenty like minded Texans out there.

  19. I also want to stress the fact that Ryan is trying to preserve Social Security so that it will be there for others who need it. He sees the benefit he had from the program and wants is to be there for others who come behind him.

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