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How Paul Ryan Won the Recess

1:15 PM, Apr 30, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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On April 28, Ryan faced one of the more hostile crowds of the week in the city of Greenfield, just outside of Milwaukee. About 600 people packed into a high school auditorium, and hecklers tried to interrupt him every five to ten minutes. Toward the end of the Q&A session, a woman began her question by thanking Ryan for producing his budget. Then the previously silent super-majority in the crowd began to applaud and rose to their feet.

Ryan received another standing ovation in Racine on Friday, but that detail was left out of Politico's story. "Rep. Paul Ryan had local police remove a man from his town hall meeting Friday after he kept yelling about how Ryan’s budget plan would impact Medicare," Politico reported from Racine. "It was the most dramatic moment yet in Ryan’s weeklong series of town halls, and it happened in one of the most Democratic areas of his district."

Well, that's a matter of opinion. 

Was one man being escorted from a town hall meeting the "most dramatic moment" of the week? Or was it more dramatic when hundreds of senior citizens gave not one but two standing ovations to a politician proposing a bold Medicare reform? Again, it's a matter of opinion. But the latter moment is a far more accurate depiction of what Ryan actually faced in his swing district these last two weeks.

The reason why Ryan won the recess isn't just because more supporters than opponents showed up to town hall meetings. The fact that Ryan was both cheered and jeered at is about as newsworthy as a story titled: "BREAKING: Democrats, Republicans Live in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District, Show Up to Political Events."

While having more energy on one's side is an important factor in politics, it isn't always the key to victory. Ron Paul supporters can win a straw poll, but can't win an election. The angry protests in Madison this February and March were met with defeat at the ballot box in April's Wisconsin supreme court race.

The reason it's fair to say Ryan won the recess is because he is winning the argument. He went through 19 hours of town hall meetings, was asked more than 200 questions by constituents, and he came out unscathed. Though the crowds were mostly supportive, the questioners were usually opposed. Every Paul Krugman or Barack Obama talking point was thrown at him. Liberals and Democrats asked Ryan probing questions about Medicare (quoting Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin at times) and tax cuts. 

Despite having a Democratic party tracker and Center for American Progress Action Fund blogger covering Ryan's town halls, all they have out of 19 hours of footage are a few clips of Ryan getting booed. They have a video of a constituent yelling "liar!" at Ryan. What they do not have is video of Ryan actually lying or getting stumped by a question. Liberals might not agree with him, but Ryan had a persuasive answer, filled with facts and figures, to every question he was asked.

Take, for example, the video clip that showed Ryan getting booed for saying "we do tax the top." He typically goes on to argue that a 35% corporate tax hurts small businesses who have to compete with foreign competitors with much lower tax rates, while some big corporations like GE pay no taxes at all because of loopholes, tax shelters, and deductions. The solution, Ryan says, is clean out "the junk" in the tax code, and then "lower tax rates for everybody" while keeping tax revenues where they are today. A similar idea was endorsed by President Obama's fiscal commission, and the Ways and Means committee will hammer out the details of which deductions they want to nix or reduce this summer. 

Ryan's town halls were filled mostly with seniors, but there was actually little concern about his Medicare reform (Ryan's opponents preferred to argue about Bush tax cuts and corporate tax cuts). 

“When seniors understand that what we’re doing is preserving Medicare exactly as it is today for people on Medicare or those 10 years away for retiring, then their minds are at ease,” Ryan told reporters on April 26. “So the challenge is—and this is the challenge you have every time you want to govern—is get through the misinformation.”

Ryan tries to cut through that misinformation with a 20-minute PowerPoint presentation at the beginning of each town hall meeting. 

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