Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies (and Still More Lies)

Last week, in my post Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, Lies, I criticized Paul Ryan (and the Romney campaign) for the pattern of lies, deceptions, and fabrications that have become the hallmarks of both Ryan’s speeches and the Romney campaign. And I wasn’t alone. All sorts of fact checkers — including many media outlets that until last Wednesday seemed to have forgotten their role as fact checkers — looked at Ryan’s speech and found it sorely lacking in accuracy (and specifics, too, but that’s a topic for another day). And even some Republicans were troubled by Ryan’s dishonesty. By way of example, here’s what Matthew Dowd, the chief political strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign said on ABC’s This Week:

Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think so stretched the truth. And I like Paul Ryan, have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but the elements that he said about closing the GM plant which closed before Barack Obama took President [sic], about the Simpson-Bowles bill which he opposed and then all of a sudden he faults Barack Obama for. At some point, the truth should matter… He was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of that GM plant and that isn’t true.

(Emphasis added.)

So you’d think (okay, maybe hope is a better word) that after giving a speech toward which so much criticism was leveled, after giving a speech that is remembered and talked about not for the eloquence or style but for the fact that so much just wasn’t true, well, you’d hope that Paul Ryan might, just maybe, try to stop telling lies.

Nope.

Before the balloons had even been cleaned up from the floor of the arena in Tampa, Paul Ryan was caught in another lie. In an interview with a conservative radio host, the topic of running came up (emphasis added):

HEWITT: Are you still running?

RYAN: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HEWITT: But you did run marathons at some point?

RYAN: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HEWITT: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

RYAN: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HEWITT: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…

RYAN: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

I’m sure that you can guess where this is going (and I’ll get to the relevance in a moment). Now, for those who aren’t runners (I used to be, back in the distant past, and recently I’ve begun some “power walking” to try to get back into shape to start running again), it’s worth noting that most runners are relatively obsessive about the times and distances that they run. And, given that a marathon is virtually the ultimate running challenge that even avid marathon runners do sparingly, it seems highly likely that any serious runner (or serious athlete for that matter) would remember the marathons he’d run and the times he’d run them in.

So anyway, when other runners read or heard this interview, there was some skepticism. Why? Because “two hour and fifty-something” is a really, really good time for a marathon. But you see, here’s the thing: Because of how special marathons are, there are pretty detailed records these days about who ran them and how fast. So some journalists from Runners World and Slate decided to do a little research. And guess what they discovered? First, Ryan didn’t run marathons; he ran a marathon, in 1990. And his time of “two hour and fifty-something”? Um, nope. How about four hours and one minute. His recollection was off by over an hour.

If you’re curious to see how your own running times are in Ryan’s alternate universe, try the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. When I use that to examine the 10 mile walk I took Monday morning, I discover that my time wasn’t really 2 hours 38 minutes, but a much more impressive 1 hour 54 minutes. I hope the calorie burn and weight loss match that faster pace.

But why does this matter? I mean, who cares about his time in a race 22 years ago? I certainly don’t care. If Ryan had said, “Gee, I don’t recall my time” I wouldn’t have thought less of him (not that I think much of him as it is…). If he’d said, “four hours” I would have been impressed simply for the fact that he completed a marathon which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Heck, I’d even give him a pass if he shaved 2 minutes off his time to claim that he’d done the marathon in “just under” 4 hours. That’s the kind of slight exaggeration that most everyone is prone to from time to time. But that’s not what Ryan did. He picked a specific time. He didn’t disabuse the interviewer of the idea that he’d run marathons, and he even capped it off with the “I was fast when I was younger” comment. He was bragging about how fast he was in the marathons he’d run. But the braggadocio was a lie. And the reason that this matters is that, when viewed alongside the totality of other lies by Ryan, we begin to get more insight into the man’s character (or lack thereof). When giving the biggest speech of his life, he lies. When talking about small, unimportant things that happened 22 years ago, he lies. So just when is it that we should presume that what Paul Ryan says is, you know, true?

But guess what? Paul Ryan isn’t done lying.

And before I continue, it’s important to remember that Paul Ryan is the chair of the House Budget Committee. He is the man responsible for crafting the budget that the House has voted on each of the past two years. And he’s often described as a “policy wonk” or “data obsessed” or for having a “passion for math”.

So anyway, earlier this week, Ryan was trying to compare President Obama to President Carter (in order to suggest that Obama is much like Carter and should be limited to a single term). So one of the comparisons Ryan drew was to say that in 1980 “330,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy. Last year, under President Obama’s failed leadership, 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy.” Wow! That’s a pretty stunning number. 1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy! Um. Not so fast. That number needs to be run through the bankruptcy equivalent of the Paul Ryan Time Calculator. And when we do so, guess what we find?

This is not true. According to American Bankruptcy Institute, under Carter 331,264 businesses and non-businesses filed for bankruptcy. That number includes not just businesses, but personal bankruptcies as well. In 1980, there were 43,694 business bankruptcies and 287,570 non-business bankruptcies.

Ryan also got it wrong with regard to the number of business bankruptcies last year. In 2011, there were 1,410,653 total bankruptcies. Of that number 47,806 were business bankruptcies and 1,362,847 were non-business bankruptcies.

So did he misspeak or purposefully manipulate the data to make it sound worse?

“He obviously misspoke, but it’s still an apples to apples comparison,” Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck said. “The point remains: bankruptcies are up dramatically under President Obama compared to the Carter years.”

Yet it’s important to note that bankruptcies are down dramatically under President Obama, compared to the Bush years.

Business bankruptcies hit a record 71,549 in 1991, when George H.W. Bush was president, second only to 1985, under Reagan, when 71,277 businesses filed.

In other words, Ryan inflated the number of business bankruptcies under President Obama … by a factor of 29! Now that’s what I call a true affinity for data that only a policy wonk could be responsible for! And did you note that the highest number of bankruptcies occurred during Republican administrations? Hmm. So by that standard, I guess we’d definitely be better off with a second term for President Obama rather than Republican Mitt Romney, right?

Remember the boy who cried wolf? Right. Paul Ryan cries “Obama!” and we’re supposed to listen and believe him. Or, we can digest Ryan’s claims … and then search for the truth. Because, so far, it looks like the words that come out of Ryan’s mouth are about as likely to be truthful as … well, pick your cliché. My preference? If Ryan utters the truth, it’s most likely just coincidence.

Is that the kind of person that you want to be the proverbial heartbeat away from the Presidency?

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