How Ryan defines the ‘American Dream’

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Two interesting videos were released late yesterday, both of which involve 2012 candidates for national office. This one, published by the Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, and discussed in detail at the top of the show last night, strikes me as the more interesting one.

In the clip, we see Paul Ryan, speaking at an American Spectator event less than a year ago, explaining his distinctly Randian vision of American society. For those who can’t watch videos online, here’s the transcript of the clip:

“The point is we are reaching a fiscal tipping point. The moral tipping point is even worse. And the moral tipping point is before too long we could become a society that we were never ever intended to be. We could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers not makers.

“Another great think tank, the Tax Foundation, runs lots of good numbers. Those of you who don’t know me, I’m kind of a numbers guy. Twenty percent of Americans, according to the Tax Foundation, get 75 percent of their income from the federal government, they’re dependent. Another 20 percent of Americans get 40 percent of their income from the federal government so their reliant. Today 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes.

“So you could argue that we’re already past that tipping point. The good news is, survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows that we are a center-right 70/30 country. Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream, they believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want the welfare state. What that tells us is at least half of those people that are currently in that category are there not of their wish or their will. They believe in that horizon they are shooting for. They’re down on their luck, they’re out of their job, they’re back in school. They want the American idea and they want their kids to be better off. But slowly but surely if we don’t watch this, if we allow all this government that is being stacked up, kick in, we will reach that moral tipping point.”

If this sentiment seems offensive in a familiar sort of way, there’s a good reason for that.

Mitt Romney’s now-infamous “47 percent” remarks were striking for several reasons, but the most politically salient was the disdain the Republican showed for millions of Americans. In Romney’s mind, nearly half the country is made up of parasitic freeloaders who refuse to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Though the language is clearly different between Romney’s video and Ryan’s, the right-wing congressman’s sentiment is eerily similar – Ryan also looks at millions of his fellow countrymen and looks down on them. He sees those who rely, at least temporarily, on public institutions and the nation’s safety net, and concludes that they don’t believe in the American idea and have abandoned the American dream.

What’s less clear – and what deserves additional scrutiny – is exactly which group of people Ryan disapproves of so strongly. Are America’s seniors little more than overly-dependent “takers”? How about military veterans? The disabled? Students? Low-income families crushed by a recession generated by Paul Ryan’s own policy agenda?

Can Ryan explain why he believes some or all of these Americans deserve his scorn? And why those who rely on corporate welfare generally get his praise?

For that matter, can he also explain who benefits from a debate in which far-right politicians divide Americans along these lines?

I get the sense the media is far more interested in the other video that caused a stir last night, and that’s a shame. This Ryan clip is the one that actually tells the public something relevant about a candidate for national office’s worldview.

Paul Ryan

How Ryan defines the 'American Dream'

Updated