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GOP VP Nominee Paul Ryan Projects Folksy Appeal with Misleading Account of His Record and Hometown

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As Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin formally accepts the Republican vice-presidential nomination, we look at the record of the tea party favorite with two reporters from his home state: Ruth Conniff of The Progressive magazine and John Nichols of The Nation. Ryan is expected to fire up the Republican Party’s conservative base after pushing a controversial budget and economic vision marked by deep cutbacks to the social safety net coupled with lower tax rates. Falling on the far-right spectrum of his own Republican Party, Ryan opposes abortion in all situations, including cases of rape and incest. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, I’m Amy Goodman. This is “Breaking With Convention.” We’re broadcasting from the PBS station WEDU in Tampa, Florida. “War, Peace and the Presidency,” Democracy Now!’s special daily two hours of coverage from the convention, inside and out. If your station is not running both hours, you can go to our website at to see the full broadcast.

On Wednesday night, Congressmember Paul Ryan of Wisconsin formally accepted the Republican vice-presidential nomination, promising a turnaround for America that includes better jobs prospects and less national debt. The tea party favorite is a seven-term Republican congressman, also chair of the House Budget Committee. On Wednesday, during a prime-time keynote address at the Republican convention in Tampa, Ryan said he is ready to work with his running mate, Mitt Romney, to meet the challenges the nation faces.

REP. PAUL RYAN: Mr. Chairman, Mr. Chairman, delegates and fellow citizens, I am honored by the support of this convention for vice president of the United States. I accept the duty to help lead our nation out of a jobs crisis and back to prosperity, and I know we can do this. I accept the calling of my generation to give our children the America that was given to us, with opportunity for the young and security for the old. And I know that we are ready. Our nominee is sure ready. His whole life—his whole life prepared him for this moment, to meet serious challenges in a serious way, without excuses and idle words. After four years of getting the runaround, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Governor Mitt Romney.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice-presidential Republican nominee Paul Ryan received several standing ovations during his speech, slamming President Obama on healthcare and the economy, while promising to ease the nation’s struggles by passing what he called “tax fairness and regulatory reform.” He also vowed to provide more job opportunities, protect Medicare and solve the debt crisis. In one of the biggest applause lines of the night, Ryan took a jab at President Obama’s record on jobs.

REP. PAUL RYAN: The issue is not the economy that Barack Obama inherited, not the economy that he envisions, but this economy that we are living. College graduates should not have to live out their twenties in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life. Everyone—everyone who feels stuck in the Obama economy is right to focus on the here and now. And I hope you understand this, too. If you’re feeling left out or passed by, you have not failed; your leaders have failed you.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Ryan is expected to fire up the conservative base of the Republican Party. He’s known for pushing a controversial budget and economic vision, marked by deep cutbacks to the social safety net coupled with lower tax rates. Over the years, he has pushed for privatizing Social Security, dismantling Medicare, slashing funding for Medicaid. He’s also proposed cutting food stamps for as many as 10 million Americans, cutting funds for programs likes Meals on Wheels, and eliminating Pell Grants for more than a million students.

On the tax front, Paul Ryan has proposed a plan to slash taxes for the wealthiest Americans while raising taxes on some of the poor. The New York Times reports, by one statistical count, Ryan is the most conservative vice-presidential nominee in more than a hundred years.

Falling on the far-right spectrum of his own Republican Party, Ryan opposes abortion in all situations, including cases of rape and incest. He also opposes abortion in cases that endanger a mother’s health.

Well, for more on Paul Ryan, we’re joined now by two guests from the home state of Wisconsin—Paul Ryan’s home state, that is. They’re here reporting on the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive magazine. John Nichols is a political writer for The Nation, whose most recent article is “They Love the Lies Paul Ryan Tells,” also author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! The lies—you were on the floor of the convention last night; why do you say “lies”?

JOHN NICHOLS: Because in fact they were lies. I mean, I don’t like to use the term “lie.” In fact, I write about politics a lot, and I’m very, very careful not to throw it around, because I think it’s used too casually, and thus it loses some of its meaning. So I almost never put the word “lie” in a headline. But in this case, I was sitting there listening to the speech—and, you know, frankly, to be honest, I’ll give you a good sort of inside way of saying it. I thought it would take me about an hour to finish up writing on this speech; it took several hours, because I felt I had to go through each of the major deceptions in his speech. And there were so many of them.

You began with his hometown story, where he talked about the General Motors plant in Janesville. Now, I’ve been at that plant. I’ve been in the UAW hall outside of it. I followed the struggle over its closure, day by day. I know when it closed. It closed around Christmas in 2008, when George Bush was president of the United States. And yet, clearly, in his speech, Paul Ryan tried to suggest that it was President Obama or President Obama’s policies that had something to do with the closure. And so, that was the beginning point. And then, you know, we go step by step through his references to “Obamacare,” his references to Medicare, his references to austerity or at least to the necessity of doing something because of debt. All of these things are rooted in deception.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Congressman Ryan attacking President Obama’s plan last night, the handling of the debt crisis, saying he’d rejected Republicans’ good-faith efforts to curtail the problem.

We’re going to try to bring you that clip right now. Well, why don’t you talk about that?

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, you know, it’s a very interesting thing, because there was this—he was referencing the Simpson-Bowles Commission, and this was chosen by President Obama with the idea of trying to come up with some sort of plan. When it came down, President Obama did not fully embrace it, although, to my mind, he was a little more sympathetic to it than I would have liked. But the interesting thing is that Paul Ryan was a harsh critic of Simpson-Bowles, as well, saying it didn’t go far enough. And so, he creates this fantasy that somehow Simpson-Bowles came along and we had—we were on the verge of an agreement to settle things and that President Obama scuttled it. The truth of the matter is that Paul Ryan was at least as central to scuttling it, if not more, than the president. And so, he—he selectively uses facts throughout all these things.

And the troubling thing to me is not that politicians do that—I’m afraid I’m a little too used to that. But what was troubling is, these were things that have been called out by PolitiFact, by FactCheck. I mean, there have been major reports in the media saying that what he’s saying is false, and he just got right up there at the Republican National Convention, stared right into that camera and said it once more.

AMY GOODMAN: In his speech, Paul Ryan illustrated economic failure under President Obama with an anecdote about a factory that closed, as you were just saying, John, before Obama took office. But let’s hear Paul Ryan say it.

REP. PAUL RYAN: My own state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said, “I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, Paul Ryan?

JOHN NICHOLS: Look, I know people who worked at that plant. I covered that story with great passion. It was—I write nationally, but that was one of the places where I brought the trade debate and the economic downturn out, because of that plant. We wrote about it for The Nation in detail. And Paul Ryan was the congressman from that district. And when he talks about the government letting the people down, Paul Ryan went to Congress, he voted for free trade deal after free trade deal after free trade deal. He supported economic policies that encouraged the transference of jobs within the United States and then beyond the U.S. And here’s the real tragedy of the moment. Had that plant stayed open into the spring of 2009, when President Obama was doing the—working on the auto bailout that Mitt Romney said they shouldn’t do, it is a chance it would have become a part of the negotiations, a part of the discussion, and maybe it would have survived. But the tragedy is, it closed under the presidency of George W. Bush—and having a congressman, who was a key player in Congress, Paul Ryan, not beginning to do what a truly impassioned representative would do to try and defend the plant and the workers in his hometown.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth, I saw you there on the floor of the Republican convention last night as you were just finishing your interview with Scott Walker. It was just before Paul Ryan took to the floor, his colleague from Wisconsin, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, of course, from Janesville, head of the Budget Committee, now the Republican vice-presidential nominee. Overall, what was your impression of the speech?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, I watched the whole speech with the Wisconsin delegation, and I actually was right next to Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin, now the Senate candidate, Republican Senate candidate. And he was beside himself with joy. In fact, he was so thrilled with Paul Ryan’s speech, like much of the Wisconsin delegation, that he leaned over, squeezed my arm and said, “He got to you, didn’t he? He got to you. Even journalists have a heart. And if he got to you, then he got to America!” So, this idea that we were all laughing and crying with Paul Ryan, that he summed up this whole theme of the Republican convention, I think was the overwhelming feeling from delegates. They loved him. They love his confidence, his poise and, most of all, his ability to make this incredibly Orwellian argument, to emote, to connect with working-class people like his constituents in his incredibly hard-hit industrial district, and then to take that and sell policies that are absolutely devastating to these same people. And as John points out with the plant in Janesville closing, that was really one of the most breathtaking moments, when he pivoted from, you know, his mom and his lovely family and the laughter and the tears to this plant closing, where, you know, labor guys have been following Paul Ryan at each of his appearances in his home district to talk about his support for these free trade agreements that have hollowed out manufacturing, not just in the whole United States, but specifically in this district, where Rock County has 54 percent loss of manufacturing jobs since 2000, you know, between 30 and 50 percent job loss in manufacturing in all of these towns right in Ryan’s home district. And not only did he support the trade policies that have destroyed these jobs, he opposed the extension of unemployment benefits for these same constituents. So, it’s really—you have to admire the chutzpah of this guy to come up and go right to that issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Wednesday night at the RNC, Democracy Now! caught up with Wisconsin State Senator Alberta Darling, who was sitting with her state’s delegation. She shared her memories of seven-term Wisconsin Congressmember Paul Ryan.

STATE SEN. ALBERTA DARLING: I met him in 1998. And he came back to Wisconsin, and he was talking to me about his experiences. And I said, “How old are you, Paul?” It seemed that he had such a vast experience. He was so articulate. And it seemed like he was a much older soul than he was at 27 at that time. And he just had such a broad experience. Jack Kemp was his mentor, and he was very committed. His brother said that when they were kids, they went on a trip in Colorado, when Paul was six. And when they climbed to the top of this peak, Paul just belted out, “God bless America!” I think that’s who Paul is. He’s a man of three main priorities: family, faith and America.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Conniff, your response?

RUTH CONNIFF: This is why people love Paul Ryan. You know, he is the smiling face of this incredibly brutal Darwinian set of policies that the Republicans are presenting to us. And the fact that he’s a great guy, the fact that he can flip through graphs saying that cutting taxes on the rich is going to bring back jobs and make America great again, and just his delivery, his relaxed demeanor and his humor, it’s what people love about him. And it’s really dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re joined by Ruth Conniff of The Progressive magazine, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin. And we’re joined, as well, by John Nichols, who is The NationThe Nation reporter who has written extensively about the uprising last year right until, well, yesterday on the floor of the convention, talking about what he called the “lies” that Paul Ryan told in his prime-time address. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, We are “Breaking With Convention: War, Peace and the Presidency,” covering the Republican National Convention, inside and out. I’m Amy Goodman. We’re broadcasting from WEDU, the PBS station here in Tampa, Florida.

During his speech on Wednesday night, Congressmember Paul Ryan, now the Republican vice-presidential nominee, vowed to protect the very social program, Medicare, that Democrats accuse him of trying to dismantle. Let’s go to a clip.

REP. PAUL RYAN: The greatest threat to Medicare is “Obamacare,” and we are going to stop it. In Congress, when they take out the heavy books and the wall charts about Medicare, my thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma Janet had Alzheimer’s, and she moved in with Mom and me. Though she felt lost at times, we did all the little things that made her feel loved. We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it’s there for my mom today. Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare for my mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Paul Ryan addressing the Republican National Convention last night. John Nichols, Ruth Conniff, your response?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, the Medicare issue was the second really breathtaking moment after the Janesville plant, because, of course, what Paul Ryan is famous for is his plan to completely destroy Medicare, to turn it into a voucher program and to let the elderly make up the gap between the voucher they get and the actual cost of health insurance. This is not lost, again, on people in his district. In fact, aside from labor member—union members, it’s grandmas in sneakers who come out to all of Paul Ryan’s events holding up signs saying, “Do not let this guy destroy my Medicare.” So, again here, he has really done something remarkable for the Republicans, which is to take this incredibly brutal plan and to present it as something that is going to save the program that he’s actually attacking. And in his town hall meetings, when he presents his plan to groups of constituents, he will flip through charts and graphs very, very quickly that are hard to follow, but the one line that always comes up is, “If you’re 55 or older, raise your hand. This doesn’t apply to you.” And that’s sort of the signal that people can tune out. “Don’t worry. This isn’t going to hurt me.” And I think it allows him to get away with a lot.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols?

JOHN NICHOLS: And just to follow on that, because I think that’s exactly right, but the interesting thing about what he did here was he did the updated defense, which is to say, “We’re not the ones coming for Medicare; Barack Obama is the one coming for Medicare. He is the one who, you know, attacked it via 'Obamacare.'” I don’t happen to be the biggest fan of “Obamacare.” I think it’s got a pretty flawed program. But one of the actually relatively noble things it did was go into some of the really abusive things and ridiculous things that are done in Medicare—Medicare had tons of money streamed to pharmaceutical companies, things like that—and it tried to do some restructuring, that every independent analyst—the Kaiser folks, all these folks—say actually strengthens Medicare, maintains spending, and where the arc of increase in spending is slowed, it is not slowed by cutting benefits, it is slowed by cutting waste, fraud and genuine abuse. And so, Ryan turns this into an evil, into an attack. And the tragedy is, this is a Karl Roveism. This is exactly what Karl Rove says: look at your opponents’ greatest strength and attack them there; never attack them on your greatest strength. And so, Ryan is really, I think, much better than George W. Bush—the penultimate Rovean contender. He gets it. And he also got the memo that says, if you’re going to talk about Medicare and Social Security, bring your mom along.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Ryan also attacked President Obama’s handling of the national debt, saying he had rejected Republicans’ good-faith efforts to curtail the problem.

REP. PAUL RYAN: In this generation, a defining responsibility of government is to steer our nation clear of a debt crisis while there is still time. Back in 2008, candidate Obama called a $10 trillion national debt unpatriotic—serious talk from what looks like a serious reformer. Yet, by his own decisions, President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined. One president, one term, $5 trillion in new debt. He created a new bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing. Republicans—Republicans stepped up with good-faith reforms and solutions equal to the problems. How did the president respond? By doing nothing, nothing except to dodge and demagogue the issue. So here we are, $16 trillion in debt, and still he does nothing. In Europe, massive debts have put entire governments at risk of collapse, and still he does nothing. And all we have heard from this president and his team are attacks on anyone who dares to point out the obvious. They have no answer to this simple reality: we need to stop spending money we don’t have.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Ryan. Ruth Conniff?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, here is the fundamental issue, that Ryan is talking about the need for entitlement reform for addressing the debt as the number one crisis in the nation. And this is a basic ideological issue, right? Do we need austerity in order to overcome joblessness and economic suffering for the middle class? That is the pitch they’re making. The problem is, the Democrats have actually opened the door for this, and this is where there’s going to be a lot of debate and discussion, but the—I think the weakness that Ryan has located here is that, in fact, Obama did talk about debt reduction and entitlement reform in the teeth of this recession. And that is too bad, because, really, the two polls should be, do we need austerity, do we need to undermine entitlement programs, or do we just need to raise taxes on the rich and really take care of people? And I think that’s where—this is where he’s exploiting a weakness that the Democrats have.

AMY GOODMAN: Ryan attacked Obama’s effort to kickstart the economy, calling the stimulus, quote, “corporate welfare anachronism.”

REP. PAUL RYAN: The first troubling sign came with the stimulus. It was President Obama’s first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion, the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government. They went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst.

AMY GOODMAN: Your response, John Nichols?

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, that was a pretty incredible statement. Obama got everything he wanted under a unified government. That’s what he said about the stimulus. I covered the stimulus fight. The House Democrats came up with a dramatically better stimulus plan, a plan that actually did outline a whole bunch of serious responses. When it got to the U.S. Senate, it was forced down to a much-collapsed approach by three moderate Republicans—they had to get their votes. And so, even at the beginning, they didn’t get what they wanted on this. And, frankly, what failed in the stimulus, to the extent that it wasn’t successful, is that it was too small. Now, I’m not the one saying that. Top economists, even conservative economists, will tell you the stimulus should have been bigger. It was Ryan and his buddies who actually tried to make it smaller.

But here’s the final component of it. If you read The Economist magazine, if you read the Financial Times, if you read all of the corporate media talking about it, they talk about the “American miracle.” They talk about the fact that, unlike the European governments that went deep into austerity, the United States actually did a stimulus, and they say that is one of the reasons why the United States has much lower unemployment. So, the publications that Paul Ryan, presumably, being the policy wonk that he is, goes home and reads at night, if he actually read them, would tell him that he’s exactly wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: In his speech, Paul Ryan attacked Obama’s signature policy achievement, his Affordable Care Act, what is known as “Obamacare.” Let’s go to that clip.

REP. PAUL RYAN: You would think that any president, whatever his party, would make job creation—and nothing else—his first order of economic business. But this president didn’t do that. Instead, we got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of healthcare. “Obamacare” comes to more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country. That’s right. That’s right. You know what? The president has declared that the debate over government-controlled healthcare is over. That will come as news to the millions of Americans who elect Mitt Romney so we can repeal “Obamacare.”

AMY GOODMAN: There you have it, Paul Ryan on—and we shouldn’t just say Paul Ryan. Of course, it will be raised tonight, as well. Mitt Romney has been raising it every day on the campaign trail, that one of his first acts in office will be to repeal “Obamacare.” And interestingly, President Obama has now accepted the new name for the Affordable Care Act, saying, “Yes, I care, so you can call it 'Obamacare.'” Ruth Conniff?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, it’s about time. I mean, this is really his greatest achievement as president, and he has really run from it. I mean, let’s face it, he has backed away and cleared the ground for this very attack. Instead of going out—look at the popularity of Medicare. Look at, you know, the provisions in this act, which, inadequate though it may be, are really helpful to people, like keeping their kids on their insurance until they’re in their twenties, right? I mean, he hasn’t really defended it well, and it’s become a place of retreat for him. And yet Americans are passionately involved in the idea of saving Medicare. So it’s clearly possible to make that argument.

AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols?

JOHN NICHOLS: You know, look, this is one of those moments where the—actually, Paul Ryan—and who I’ve covered for a long time, and Ruth has, as well, and we’ve known over the years—he had to walk one of the most delicate tightropes in American politics. “Obamacare” is deeply hated, it is despised, inside that hall. And yet, outside the hall, he has to present at least a sense of sympathy for some of the ideas in it. And on this one, I think he kind of blew it. I think he went the wrong—I think he went a little bit too far. I don’t think you’ll see Mitt Romney do that tonight. My sense is that what they will say is, you know, “We don’t like the Affordable Care Act, but we are going to—you know, we are going to do some of this.”

And here’s where I think you’re starting to see a little bit of a difference between Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney is a politician. He was a liberal Republican for a while, and, you know, now he’s a conservative Republican. Paul Ryan really believes this stuff. Paul Ryan actually reads the books and goes on the Glenn Beck show and talks about how this is how they’re going to bring socialism to America. And so, to him, bashing the Affordable Care Act as fundamentally evil, he likes to do that. And here, I think he liked to do it a little too much, and the crowd loved it a little too much. If you’re watching from outside in America, you’re seeing an awful lot of people get very impassioned about taking away your healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to Democracy Now! catching up with Wisconsin State Senator Alberta Darling, sitting with her state’s delegation.

STATE SEN. ALBERTA DARLING: You look at this last evening, we had Scott Walker. We are going to hear from Paul Ryan. We have Reince Priebus. We had Sean Duffy. The bench is really deep. The talent is significant. I think what we are showcasing at this convention is, we have leaders who do what they say they’re going to do when they are elected. They’re people of integrity. They tell the truth. They put forward bold solutions. And they make tough choices. And that’s what we have to do today.

RENÉE FELTZ: It hasn’t always been an easy road. Governor Scott Walker faced a recall election.


RENÉE FELTZ: And what do you think that means in terms of pursuing some of these similar policies at a national level?

STATE SEN. ALBERTA DARLING: I think it—well, I faced a recall, too. I was the co-chair of finance. I went out a year earlier than the governor. And why they want to take us out is—and the special interest groups from around the country put all their guns on us, because they knew if we succeeded that the rest of the state would follow our lead. And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Alberta Darling, a Wisconsin delegate, interviewed Democracy Now!'s Renée Feltz. What about this issue of Scott Walker's policies, well, going national, John Nichols?

JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, the viewers won’t be able to see it, so I won’t hold it up, but there’s a pin that the Republicans have been giving out that’s got Mount Rushmore, with—


JOHN NICHOLS: —Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Tommy Thompson and Reince Priebus, the chair of the RNC. And among the Wisconsin delegates—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. It says “Wisconsin GOP,” and it’s got the four, and then it says, “2012 rock stars.”

JOHN NICHOLS: They love that. And, you know, this is—this is really where they’re at. They believe that they have developed a model, not for winning elections—that’s not enough anymore. They’ve developed a model for taking total power—and that’s a big part of it. They will say—Scott Walker will say, “You don’t want to have divided government. Divided government, that doesn’t work. You need to barrel through, do things fast,” for getting full power and then going to the most radical end of their agenda. And that’s what these folks did in Wisconsin. They took power in January. They spent a month doing corporate tax cuts, tort reform, really radical stuff that had, you know, been issues of contention for years. And then the next month they took on the labor unions, they took on civil service, they took on the distribution of healthcare in the state. I mean, what we saw in the protests was mainly seen as a labor fight. It was really a fight about a broad agenda being swept in in two months. It’s an important thing for people to understand. If you take the Scott Walker Wisconsin model nationally, what you’re really talking about is a Romney-Ryan win in November with a Republican Senate and House—and that is likely; if they win, it’s likely to come together there—and then, January 20th, they do the inaugural in a couple seconds, and then they’re over there moving on an extremely radical agenda and implementing very, very fast. They won’t wait three years to do Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. They’ll do it in the first month.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Conniff, you’re with The Progressive magazine, which is based in Madison, Wisconsin. Let’s talk about this in the biggest way. Your state—both of you, John Nichols, Ruth Conniff, from Wisconsin—becoming a model for the country, and what the elevation of Paul Ryan means, whether he wins or not? And what traditions Wisconsin represents for this country?

RUTH CONNIFF: Well, of course, I work for The Progressive magazine, the 103-year-old publication that was part of the Progressive movement, founded by Fighting Bob La Follette, you know, four blocks from where the massive protests engulfed our Capitol building. So, a year and a half ago—

AMY GOODMAN: And La Follette was?

RUTH CONNIFF: La Follette—Fighting Bob La Follette was a senator from Wisconsin, governor of Wisconsin, and a liberal Republican who founded the Progressive Party in this country. So he was—he was an enemy of corporate power. He was a champion of the public interest over private greed. He was, you know, a foundational figure in American politics who really represents the ideological battle that we’re looking at right now today. So the idea that Wisconsin is now known for the extreme right-wing policies of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan is pretty brutal for those of us who live in Wisconsin and come out of that and celebrate that progressive tradition, which is so fundamental nationally.

But it’s interesting to see the hometown pride in the Wisconsin delegation here. And John and I were on a yacht yesterday at a Tommy Thompson fundraiser, which was the perfect epitome example of this. Tommy Thompson is known as a moderate, back-slapping guy who reaches across the aisle. He just survived a very, very brutal primary battle in Wisconsin, where the Club for Growth took out ads bashing him as a Republican in name only. Alberta Darling was once on the board of Planned Parenthood. These guys are—you know, one of these things is not like the others on this photograph of Mount Rushmore here. But they have folded into the idea that Wisconsin politics are all about the far, far right, the absolute pro-life fundamentalism and, you know, this brutal Darwinian economic set of policies. So this is not really what Wisconsin has always been about. It’s what Wisconsin is projecting to the world right now. And folks like Alberta Darling and Tommy Thompson are coming along for the ride.

AMY GOODMAN: Last question: what is in the cheese? Reince Priebus, who is the—right? He is the head of the RNC right now, the Republican National Committee; Scott Walker, the governor; and, of course, now Paul Ryan. John, 30 seconds.

JOHN NICHOLS: Well, very quickly, I’ll correct my friend Ruth to say that Robert M. La Follette never called—

AMY GOODMAN: You weren’t on the boat last night?

JOHN NICHOLS: No, I was there. But Robert M. La Follette never called himself a liberal. He called himself a radical for economic democracy. And he was a—this is where Wisconsin came from. But Wisconsin has always been a deeply divided state. These folks have taken advantage of those divisions, and they have remade the Republican Party as an ideological entity. And the key thing is not a change on the ground in Wisconsin. The key thing is the money that they brought in from across this country. Scott Walker got re-elected with the most spending per vote of a winning governor in modern American history. And the reality is, they’re not winning on ideas, they’re winning on money. That’s something that we really ought to think about as we go toward November. These ideas are bad ideas, but they can be sold. And Paul Ryan, like Scott Walker, is a pretty good salesman.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think Paul Ryan needs to be asked? What are you hoping to ask him if you see him on the floor of the convention today?

JOHN NICHOLS: We won’t see him on the floor, I suspect. I think he’ll be up on the—up on the podiums. But if I do see Paul Ryan, I really will go to him on that GM plant issue. I mean, the fact of the matter is, members of United Auto Workers Local 95 in Janesville begged him—begged him—to take steps that might have saved that plant, and he did not work with them.

AMY GOODMAN: Yet, he was elected time and time again.

JOHN NICHOLS: In a district that was redistricted, under his—with him being a key player in redistricting to keep bringing in suburban areas of Milwaukee and Chicago, out-voting the working-class people in his hometown.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Ruth Conniff is a political editor of The Progressive magazine. And thank you so much to John Nichols, political writer for The Nation, whose most recent article is called “They Love the Lies Paul Ryan Tells,” also author of Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest from Madison to Wall Street. We’ll be back in a minute.

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