Paul Ryan, Poverty Fighter?

Paul Ryan (cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

(cc photo: Gage Skidmore)

Let’s say you’re a star Republican politician looking to reboot your public profile after a big loss. You’re perhaps best known for coming up with a federal budget blueprint that slashed tax rates for the wealthy and proposed big cuts to anti-poverty safety net programs. 

But now you want to be known as a guy who really cares about fighting poverty. Good luck with that makeover, right?

Lucky for you, the Washington Post is here to help. 

“Paul Ryan, GOP’s Budget Architect, Sets His Sights on Fighting Poverty and Winning Minds,” was the November 19 headline. Reporter Lori Montgomery told Post readers that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s former running mate, was “quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods” and ready to roll out an anti-poverty plan to rival his budgetary Roadmap for America’s Future in scope and ambition.”

Ryan’s plan, apparently, is to 

advance an expanded agenda that combines an overhaul of the tax code and federal health and retirement programs with kinder, gentler policies to encourage work and upward mobility.

The Post press release article is especially convincing because it discounts the critics of Paul’s ideas that could weigh in on his actual record. Instead we get analysis from “Bill Bennett, a conservative political theorist,” Ryan adviser Pete Wehner, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus, Republican strategist Ed Gillespie, Scott Winship of the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, and two poverty activists who apparently have influenced Paul (Bob Woodson and Bishop Shirley Holloway). The only critic comes from within the party, courtesy of Bruce Bartlett, who says Republicans like Paul “want to care.” 

It’s not that Montgomery is unaware of Ryan’s record–she refers to Ryan’s famous budget as “sharply slowing federal spending on the poor.”

So what is this all about? Montgomery notes in passing that “Ryan’s interest in poverty dovetails with a larger effort to revamp the GOP.” What would help with that “larger effort”? A story like this.

Earlier this year (3/14/13), New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argued that Ryan’s spell over the elite media seemed to have been fading:

 The good news is that Mr. Ryan’s thoroughly unconvincing policy-wonk act seems, finally, to have worn out its welcome. 

Well, maybe not. 

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.