On Monday, hours before he realized his policy dream of handing the ultrawealthy a massive tax cut, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s staff tweeted a video of the congressman touting his Ayn Randian vision over and over for the last two decades. The aim was to portray Ryan as a determined warrior who has fought hard throughout his career to reform an overly burdensome tax code. Instead, it just emphasized what a charlatan he is.
The video begins in 1998, with a 17-year-old Ryan (okay, he was actually 28 or 29 at the time, but he sure looks like a confident pre-frosh who just wandered over to the College Republicans table), proclaiming on C-Span that “our tax system is punishing all those systems that make America great.” The next clip jumps a decade to the House floor in 2008, by which point Ryan had become a rising star in a GOP that had fully committed itself to discredited supply-side dogma. “I am introducing a road map for America’s future,” he intones, with the sort of grandiosity that made him a favorite of credulous reporters for so long.
But then, the video snippets take on a distinct, and, given the circumstances, odd, theme: simplification.
In 2010, Ryan touts “a very simplified system, so that businessmen, entrepreneurs, and individuals can actually have a clean, easy postcard to fill out and move on.”
In 2011, he says, “Get rid of the loopholes, lower the tax rates, make us more competitive.”
In 2015, he says, “The only way to fix our tax code is to simplify, simplify, simplify.”
One slight problem with that: The tax bill Ryan is about to usher into law does nothing of the sort. As the New York Times puts it, “It leaves nearly every large tax break in place. It creates as many new preferences for special interests as it gets rid of. It will keep corporate accountants busy for years to come. And no taxpayer will ever see the postcard-size tax return that President Trump laid a kiss on in November as Republican leaders launched their tax overhaul effort.”
And loopholes? The GOP’s sloppy, rushed process in passing the bill ensures that savvy tax lawyers — a.k.a. those employed by the rich — will be exploiting its arcane new rules to their clients’ maximum benefit for years.
The fact that Ryan’s staff would tweet out a video that so thoroughly contradicts what Ryan is actually about to do is a reminder that the Speaker has paid very little price for the deceptions that have defined his career. Having positioned himself as a serious “policy wonk,” he has abandoned almost all the promises he made about making taxes more straightforward, but has emerged triumphant on the one thing he really wanted to do: make the wealthy much, much wealthier.
“We are in a generational-defining moment for our country,” Ryan remarks at the end of the video.
We may well be. Just not in the way he thinks.