Reminder: Paul Ryan is a wild-eyed, right-wing nut. He's acceptable to the insane caucus because he is one of them

Paul Ryan is a popular pick for speaker, but mostly because he wants to turn the U.S. into the Hunger Games

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published October 9, 2015 1:20PM (EDT)

Paul Ryan (AP/Carolyn Kaster)
Paul Ryan (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The implosion of congressional Republicans that led to Rep. Kevin McCarthy to withdraw his name from the running to replace John Boehner as House Speaker had another twist Thursday afternoon when Robert Costa tweeted that Boehner is all but begging Rep. Paul Ryan to run:

Ryan has refused to run for the job Boehner had to let go of after being besieged by shutdown-happy radical conservatives who will pay any price to cut off Planned Parenthood's contraception-and-cancer-screening funding. His unwillingness to step into that bear trap suggests Ryan is not a complete moron. This puts him into such stark contrast with many of his colleagues that he might start looking like some kind of moderate elder statesman. But one should not be fooled. Ryan is just as much a wild-eyed right-wing nut as the rest of them, even if he can occasionally look a bit calmer on the TV.

Ryan's main agenda as a congressman has always been to slash government spending and concentrate as much wealth as possible into the hands of the already wealthy elite. The various budgets and spending plans he has offered over the years are aimed, with a single-mindedness that should chill to the bone, at depriving low income people of food and health care so that rich people can own bigger yachts. He has proposed eliminating not just Obamacare, but Medicare, the bulk of Medicaid and CHIP, and giving people "vouchers" instead of money to pay for their health care. Why vouchers? I don't know. Maybe it just feels like you're driving the knife in a little more than it would if you simply cut the funding off.

He also proposed raising taxes on the middle class in order to fund massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

Ryan justifies taking food from babies, pills from seniors, and money out of your wallet to give to rich people by simply assuming that if you're not of the elite, it's because you're a lazy, no-good waste of space. He likes to argue that the social safety net is "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency". If those hungry babies and senior citizens want their food and medication, I guess they just need to work harder!

Ryan also blithely assumes that if you are able-bodied, then the only reason you could possibly be out of work is you're too busy sitting on your ass to get a job. His 2014 report on poverty, as Paul Krugman reported, "notes that there has been a large decline in labor force participation, and it claims that antipoverty programs, which reduce the incentive to work, are a major reason for this decline." As Krugman points out, the research that Ryan leans on to justify this claim doesn't not lead to that conclusion at all. In addition, other research shows that social mobility, which Ryan claims he is for, is actually improved by social spending. Kids who have a good meal and a warm bed to sleep in, it turns out, do better in school than ones who are starving in the streets.

Unsurprisingly, Ryan's ugly assumptions that people are poor because they are lazy have a racist component to them, as well. “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular," he told Bill Bennett in 2014, "of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."

Ryan must also believe that people's laziness causes bad weather, as he was one of the 67 Republicans who voted against a disaster relief package for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. If you don't want your house destroyed by a flood, I suppose you must get off your duff and start working harder. That will show those hurricanes!

Ryan isn't just a radical when it comes to his deep desire to turn this country into the Hunger Games. He's also a radical on social issues. Ryan's hostility to abortion and contraception runs deep. Boehner was drummed out, in part, because he was perceived as not eager enough to cut contraception funding to just Planned Parenthood. But Ryan's proposals have gone a step further, recommending that all Title X funding---which makes contraception and STI treatment, but not abortion, more affordable for low income people---be zeroed out.

Indeed, Ryan is so opposed to women's rights that he partnered up with the infamous Todd Akin to write Akin's bizarre theories about women's bodies and rape into the law. Akin famously told a reporter in 2012 that rape victims don't need abortion access because if it's a "legitimate rape" then "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down". It wasn't just a passing comment. Akin is legitimately obsessed with the idea that women frequently lie about rape (and apparently that pregnancy is a sign of such lying). He sponsored a bill, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” reflecting this belief that narrowed the definition of "rape" to "forcible rape", i.e. unless you put up a fight and were subdued with violence, the non-consensual sex that was forced on you wasn't rape.

Guess who was his co-sponsor on that bill? None other than Paul Ryan. He wasn't just a co-sponsor of it, either. He and Akin were the original co-sponsors. The it's-only-rape-if-you-fought-back bill was his baby. The name of the bill is a misnomer, by the way. Taxpayer funding for abortion was already banned by the 1976 Hyde Amendment. This bill was about banning abortion coverage on private insurance plans.

There's a reason that Ryan is under so much pressure to step into the lion's den. "None of the plausible candidates enjoys Ryan's unique mix of support among conservatives and trust among the party establishment," as Brian Beutler of the New Republic explains. The reason for this is simple: The radical right wing of the party sees Ryan as one of theirs. That is because he is one of theirs. The fact that he's smart enough not to dive headlong into the danger zone that is the speakership shouldn't distract us from the fact that he's as big a right wing radical as they come.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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