Washington Post Mistakes Wisconsin Politician for Political Philosopher

November 20, 2013

Jeff Bezos is apparently having a hard time getting good help. Yesterday his paper mistook Paul Ryan, the Chair of the House Budget Committee, for a political philosopher. It ran a lengthy article telling readers about Ryan’s philosophy on taxes and poverty.

Of course the Post has no clue about Ryan’s philosophy, it knows what the politician says and what people close to him say. It may be news to the Post, although probably not Post readers, that politicians often don’t say what they really think. The piece tells us in the headline that Ryan “sets his sights on fighting poverty.” In fact, all we know is that Ryan wants to be perceived as setting his sights on fighting poverty.

The article itself gave no clue as to anything Ryan is considering that would qualify as a poverty fighting agenda. It talks about self-help and religious groups. These have existed forever with considerable government support. Their impact on poverty is very limited. The article gives no hint as to why anyone might think they would have a greater impact in the future, especially in a context where Ryan’s proposed cuts to a wide range of government programs would likely increase poverty.

The one substantive idea mentioned in the piece is school vouchers. This is hardly a new idea and one that has not been especially successful in practice.

The piece is also somewhat misleading when it tells readers:

“Unlike Romney, Ryan is no child of privilege. His dad died when he was 16, and he paid for college with a mix of Social Security survivors checks and maxed-out student loans, according to his brother, Tobin Ryan.”

Actually Ryan was from a relatively comfortable upper middle class family which owned a small business. While his family certainly was not as wealthy as Romney’s, it is misleading to describe Ryan as facing financial hardship in his upbringing.


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