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Friday, July 20, 2018

Widely suspected of believing in nothing, Mitt Romney’s choice of a True Believer as his running mate plays well as public theater. As a TV performer, Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan is as winsome as Sarah Palin, and far better at faking sincerity.

Although women are generally smarter about this kind of thing than men, Ryan’s puppy dog eyes and altar boy demeanor make him a formidable cam-paigner. Had he not gone into politics, he’d have made a terrific Irish-Catholic funeral director. Not for nothing did his high school classmates in Janesville, WI elect him class president and, more tellingly, “Biggest Brown-Noser.”

Surely, this polite Midwestern family man couldn’t possibly be the heartless fanatic that Democrats portray. Maybe the most telling passage in Jonathan Chait’s prescient New York Magazine profile of Ryan was the author’s exchange with James B. Stewart, the legendarily inept New York Times business columnist.

(During the great “Whitewater” snipe hunt, Stewart once appeared on “Nightline” predicting Hillary Clinton’s imminent indictment for falsifying a loan application. It turned out that Stewart himself had neglected to examine the second page of a two-page document. You’d be laughed off the sports page for that, but Washington punditry has its own rules.)

So anyway, in pursuit of the sacred illusion of “bipartisanship,” Stewart had written that Ryan’s latest ballyhooed tax reform scheme—he churns them out like the Politburo—had the potential to heal the nation’s fiscal divide, raise greater revenue and increase fairness by treating capital gains as ordinary income.

It’s true that doing that might almost make Ryan’s numbers work; also, alas, that Stewart had simply imagined it.

In reality, Chait pointed out, Ryan actually proposes not raising, but eliminating capital gains taxes altogether—so that a multi-millionaire like, say, Mitt Romney, whose income derives from investments rather than work, could end up paying no federal income taxes at all. An enduring solicitude for the sufferings of plutocrats is the pole star of Ryan’s public life.

Stewart, however, suggested to Chait that Ryan couldn’t possibly be so cynical. He must have been “boxed-in” by right-wingers. He alibied that the Wisconsin congressman “seems very straightforward…He doesn’t seem cunning. He seems very genuine.”

Have I mentioned that Rep. Ryan is a very handsome fellow, with earnest puppy-dog eyes? Seeming guilessness is his singular political talent. That, and a wholly undeserved reputation for intellectual seriousness and lack of personal ambition belied by his rapid rise to power.