How Paul Ryan Won the Recess
1:15 PM, Apr 30, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
With apologies to Norman Rockwell.
Did you hear the news? Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, the architect of the House Republicans' budget, was booed! By his own constituents!
The video of said town hall booing was clipped by the liberal blog ThinkProgress, zipped around the Internet, and then moved up the conveyor belt to CNN, MSNBC, NPR, NBC's Nightly News, Comedy Central's The Daily Show, and other media outlets.
And so the "budget backlash" narrative began.
"Chairman Ryan, the people, including your constituents, are talking,” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the video. “Are you listening?" (Yes, this is the same Nancy Pelosi who dismissed the opposition to the national health care bill at the 2009 town hall meetings as “astroturf” or “un-American” citizens who were “carrying Swastikas.”)
The only problem with the backlash narrative is that it is wildly misleading. Despite efforts by labor unions and a variety of liberal activist organizations—One Wisconsin Now, MoveOn.org, Citizens Action of Wisconsin, Community for Change, etc.—to pack Ryan’s events with detractors and hecklers, they were overwhelmingly outnumbered by his supporters.
At the 19 town hall meetings held over the course of two weeks, Ryan was praised much more frequently than he was heckled by attendees. Judging from applause versus boos this week, I didn't witness a single event where Ryan had less than two-thirds of the crowd supporting him. Some constituents thanked Ryan for his "moral courage." Others offered more effusive praise. "I want to thank you for having the cojones—and not the other word, which I hope you all know what it is—for standing up for us, the whole United States,” a small business owner named Maria told Ryan in Lake Geneva on April 26. “I love you. As a surrogate mother."
His opponents were able muster up a crowd of 50 to 75 people to protest his event in Kenosha later that day—a vast sea of rage compared to the 3 protesters who showed up in Franklin on Thursday or the lone man holding a “TAX THE TOP” sign outside of the Oak Creek town hall.
One man protesting in Kenosha, who identified himself only as a Teamsters member ("I don't have a name," he told me), tried to pick a fight with a Ryan supporter and then a police officer outside the event. At times, he stood directly in front of Ryan’s car door as the meeting was about to conclude.
"I will go to jail for you, man," the Teamsters member said as he got in the face of a Ryan supporter.
"Officer, arrest this man," he then told a police officer. "He's inciting a riot," he continued before calling the Ryan supporter a “Nazi.”
He succeeded in forcing Ryan to leave with a police escort out of another exit.
"Chickenshit!" yelled Ned Harper, president of the local SEIU chapter, upon hearing the news that his Teamsters buddy had forced Ryan to leave out of a back door.
This story, too, fed into the backlash narrative. The Hill's Jordan Fabian reported simply that Ryan had to leave a town hall meeting "under police escort due to security concerns about a demonstration outside the building where the event was held." No mention that the "demonstration" was comprised of a few dozen people or that a lone thuggish Teamsters member was the big cause for concern (here's the video). Politico's Jennifer Haberkorn and Diane Webber left out that context as well.
(To their credit, Dinesh Ramded of the Associated Press and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times tried to put the booing and heckling in proper context of the broader support Ryan received in his district.)
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