He's used to the media letting him get away with outlandish claims. But this time he went too far
At first I thought the flap over Paul Ryan claiming he ran a marathon in under three hours was silly. (No, I’m not a runner.) Before I read his remarks to the worshipful Hugh Hewitt, it seemed possible that he’d either mis-remembered or mis-spoken. Anyway, Ryan is telling so many destructive political lies on the campaign trail, I thought, why does it matter if he exaggerates his running prowess?
Then I read the interview. He neither mis-spoke nor mis-remembered; he boasted about the feat with specificity and swagger.
Asked if he still ran marathons (plural), Ryan answered “Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.” When fanboy Hewitt interjected, “I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?” Ryan fatefully answered “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” The adoring Hewitt exclaimed “Holy smokes!” To which Ryan humbly answered, “I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”
Of course the world now knows that Ryan ran exactly one marathon, and he completed it in just over four hours, not under three. Runners World got the scoop, because marathoners know that Ryan’s claim, if true, was extraordinary. Ryan admitted he got his time wrong in a statement to Runners World, noting “The race was more than 20 years ago.”
So why would Ryan lie? He’s incredibly fit. No one doubts that he does a grueling P90X workout every day. A Google search for “paul ryan shirtless” yields almost 2.2 million results. Why would he feel he had to embellish his remarkable athletic achievements?
Because he thought he could.
Ryan’s media coverage, until now, has been worshipful, parroting his claims and never checking his facts. He’s been called “serious” by Beltway pundits too many times to count, for proposing a budget that slashes programs for poor people, gives the ultra-wealthy more tax cuts and doesn’t balance the budget until 2040. He’s considered a fiscal hawk even though he voted for the Bush tax cuts, a new Medicare entitlement and budgets that squandered the Clinton surplus and ran up a huge deficit under a Republican president.
Ryan was lauded for adding a common touch to Mitt Romney’s ticket, although he grew up well-to-do in Janesville, Wisc. and is now worth at least several million dollars. He parrots the GOP’s “We built that!” nonsense, in which rich people declare they had no government help amassing their fortunes, even though his family got rich in the construction business thanks in part to government highway contracts.
So why would Ryan expect anyone would fact-check his casual marathon lie?
But Runners World did. And now, on top of his convention-speech lies, Ryan’s marathon claim is sealing his reputation as a prevaricator. There’s a character issue here: What kind of person casually lies about an achievement like that, with a swagger? (“I was fast when I was younger, yeah.”) For someone who purports to valorize hard work and individual achievement, such a claim is particularly corrupt.
Ryan is like a guy who was born on second base but tells people he hit a triple, and gets away with it. Until now.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
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