(The Root) — The Romney-Ryan ticket suffers from pathological hypocrisy.
On Monday, President Obama made a rare appearance in the White House pressroom and addressed false claims in a Mitt Romney campaign commercial that asserts Obama's administration is turning back the clock on the welfare reform of 1996 by doing away with the requirement that welfare recipients work after two years on assistance, with few exceptions. The ad refers to a recent memo from the Department of Health and Human Services offering states a waiver to the 1996 rules, but only if they develop plans that increase work opportunities by 20 percent.
Obama called Romney's claims "patently false," and the president is supported by the New York Times and the Washington Post, both of which revealed that Republicans actually requested the waiver. In fact, Romney was among several Republican governors who signed a letter in 2005 asking for more flexibility.
Yes. Romney is now attacking the president for granting a request that Romney himself made. Are pigs flying? Has hell frozen over?
This flair for consistently being inconsistent is not new for Romney. And it turns out that his reportedly brave choice of running mate shares this problematic personality flaw.
In 2010 the current Republican vice presidential candidate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, publicly objected to what he called "the discredited economic playbook of borrow-and-spend Keynesian policies." Ryan was referring to President Obama's stimulus package, but a little fact-checking shows that Ryan supported similar measures under President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In 2002 Ryan gave an impassioned speech imploring Congress to support the Bush proposal. "What we're trying to accomplish today with the passage of this third stimulus package is to create jobs and help the unemployed," Ryan said. "What we're trying to accomplish is to pass the kinds of legislation that … in the past have grown the economy and gotten people back to work."
His hypocrisy has multiplied. After voting against Obama's stimulus, the congressman advocated for millions of dollars to benefit his own district. And he did so on the grounds that the money would create jobs. When asked about the inconsistency, Ryan denied having requested stimulus funds. But then letters bearing Ryan's personal signature emerged, and he was forced to admit that his office did, in fact, ask for (and receive) money from the Obama stimulus, and the money did save, protect and create jobs.
The cognitive dissonance displayed is mind-numbing. Either Romney and Ryan lack integrity or they are guilty of being incredibly intellectually inept.
Ryan — a man who is supposedly principled — has given no explanation for his fallacious claims that Obama's 2009 stimulus did not work. The truth is that Obama's policy has led to 29 months of consistent, positive job growth.
Unlike Bush's post-9/11 response, which focused heavily on tax cuts disproportionately benefiting the wealthy and corporations, Obama's $787 billion package was devoted to helping average American families, low-income earners and the unemployed. These investments — combined with the extension of payroll-tax reductions — have placed the economy on a road to recovery and contributed to an increase in consumer spending and consumer confidence.
Ryan also advocated for $224 million to save a GM plant in his small town of Janesville, Wis. He had originally supported Obama's auto bailout — although he now claims he doesn't — but that change of heart seems politically expedient because Romney infamously penned a New York Times op-ed entitled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," in which he outlined an argument that would have resulted in thousands of American job losses.
It's important to note that this misguided philosophy isn't new for Romney. As CEO of Bain Capital, he profited from bankrupting companies similar to the Janesville plant by shipping jobs offshore and relying on government bonds, federal dollars and local municipal tax breaks to fund Bain investments. The most well-known of these are Steel Dynamics in Virginia and GST Steel of Kansas City, both of which relied on corporate welfare.
But this hypocrisy is less reflective of Romney's and Ryan's personal attitudes or dispositions and more indicative of the GOP's political playbook.
Ryan's proposed budget — which made him a darling of the Tea Party — is dedicated to tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans: slashing corporate taxes for large businesses and capital gains taxes for high-net-worth individuals. He does this, of course, while cutting trillions from Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the programs that the poor and middle class rely upon most.
In fact, under Ryan's plan, Romney's low tax rate of 13 percent would drop to 1 percent — an ironic twist considering the Occupy-movement debate and slogans. Literally, under a Romney-Ryan budget the top 1 percent would pay 1 percent in taxes. It is essentially a plan to institutionalize white-collar welfare.
But the Romney-Ryan strategy isn't just about economics. It's also a tale that reinforces social and racial divides. Republicans approve of billion-dollar private-equity deals, funded by the local tax dollars of workers who eventually lose their jobs, while decrying any restrictions on the "job creators." Romney and Ryan further perpetuate the idea that working-class people and the poor are undeserving of government handouts.
You see, the GOP has so warped the truth about who benefits most from government spending that voters actually believe the lies. Romney and Ryan have proposed tax increases on working-class families amounting to at least $2,000 each year, while offering hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax cuts for the average millionaire and billionaire. These are government handouts at their most egregious: redistributing wealth to a plutocratic elite that neither needs nor deserves it.
The recent attacks on Obama's welfare proposals are even more insidious because they play into what Reagan's 1980 campaign manager, Lee Atwater, called the new Southern strategy.
In 1981 Atwater acknowledged that the GOP used coded language about welfare to appeal to "the racist side of the [George] Wallace voter." In Atwater's own words: "By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights, and all these things that you're talking about are totally economic things, and a by-product of them is blacks get hurt worse than whites … because obviously saying, 'We want to cut this,' is much more abstract … than 'nigger.' "
Reagan perfected the modern politics of racial divisiveness. His bogus references to a "young buck" using food stamps to buy steaks and the "welfare queen" from the "South Side of Chicago" created the pattern from which most Republican, racist dog-whistle tactics are now sewn. In 2012 Romney's campaign is lying about Obama's changes to welfare-to-work, fully aware that the former Massachusetts governor and other Republicans supported those changes.
Of course, the fact that poor whites are the major beneficiaries of welfare remains undiscussed because that would undermine Romney's argument — and offend the blue-collar workers who seem blinded by white-collar politics.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Edward Wyckoff Williams is a contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, ABC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.