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The Assault on Paul Ryan II

Sep 10, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 48 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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But the narrative was set. How did this happen? Immediately after Ryan finished delivering the passage on the GM plant in his speech, top Obama adviser Stephanie Cutter sent this tweet: “Ryan blaming the President for a GM auto plant that closed under Pres Bush—thought he was smarter than that.” With one click after another, Cutter’s false claim became accepted wisdom.

So we are left with this irony: Paul Ryan was accused of lying because journalists and self-described “fact checkers” relied, at least in part, on a misstatement of fact that came directly from the Obama campaign.

There’s a bigger problem. The same media outlets so energetically fact-checking every claim made by Republicans are missing extraordinary contradictions and inconsistencies from the Obama campaign. (Note to fact-checkers: The words “every claim” are deliberate hyperbole, not meant literally.)

Think about this: In an election in which voters cite the economy as their top concern, the centerpiece of Barack Obama’s reelection campaign is a policy proposal that he has twice insisted would damage the economy. It might be considered the most audacious and important contradiction of the 2012 campaign. Most journalists haven’t noticed.

Obama wants to raise taxes on the rich. He has vigorously opposed Republican efforts to maintain the current tax rates for all taxpayers, including the wealthy, and he’s mentioned his desire for tax “fairness” in recent campaign speeches in Virginia, Colorado, and Iowa. An ad the Obama administration ran in August urges higher taxes on “millionaires” and concludes: “I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message because to cut the deficit we need everyone to pay their fair share.”

In the summer of 2009, Obama said in an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd that raising taxes in a recession “would just suck up—take more demand out of the economy and put business in a further hole.” Raising taxes in such a downturn, the president said, is “the last thing you want to do.” Obama can point out, correctly, that we’re not in a recession. The obvious question to ask him, however, is why it’d be foolish to raise taxes in a recession but wise to do so in a sputtering recovery.

The second time he made this argument presents more problems—or might if journalists actually asked him about it. On January 29, 2010, with an economy he described as “somewhat fragile,” Obama said that the “consensus among people who know the economy best” was that raising taxes was one of two ways to damage the economy. At a House Republican retreat in Baltimore, Obama rejected a Republican proposal to freeze spending at pre-stimulus levels and warned against the “destimulative effect” of tax hikes.

I am just listening to the consensus among people who know the economy best. And what they will say is that if you either increased taxes or significantly lowered spending when the economy remains somewhat fragile, that that would have a de-stimulative effect and potentially you’d see a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs. That would be a mistake when the economy has not fully taken off.

Raising taxes, the president said without qualification, would be a “mistake” that could lead to “a lot of folks losing business, more folks potentially losing jobs.” Here’s the kicker: The economy today is not doing nearly as well as it was when Obama made those comments. Then, the “somewhat fragile” U.S. economy was coming off a fourth quarter in 2009 that had seen economic growth at a robust 5.6 percent—a pace that the New York Times described as a “roaring growth rate,” while noting that it was expected to slow. (The first quarter of 2010 would show growth at 3.2 percent.) Growth today is considerably slower—a mere 1.7 percent in the last quarter, down from 2 percent in the first quarter.

Why would the president run for reelection on a policy that he believes will damage the economy, hurt business, and lead to higher unemployment?

It’s a good question. Perhaps when journalists are done fact-checking the Republicans, they’ll ask him. 

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