President Obama included a line in his inaugural address yesterday that seemed to be a direct rebuke to the ideology he defeated during the last election. “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us,” he said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), not surprisingly, took notice and defended his ideology today, arguing that the president was attacking a “straw man.”
Ryan said earned entitlements such as Social Security – where you pay your payroll taxes during your working like to get a benefit when you retire – are “not taker programs.”
“When the president does kind of a switcheroo like that, what he’s trying to say is that we are maligning these programs that people have earned throughout their working lives,” he said. “So it’s kind of a convenient twist of terms to try and shadowbox a straw man in order to win an argument by default.”
In this case, a “twist of terms” is wholly unnecessary. Today, the far-right Wisconsinite said Social Security is not an example of a “taker” program, but we don’t have to look back too far to see Ryan condemning Social Security as “a collectivist system,” championed by “collectivist, class warfare-breathing demagogues,” which should be privatized so that seniors can be “participants” in “our capitalist system.”
What’s more, in 2011, Ryan explicitly warned of “a society where the net majority of Americans are takers not makers.” He didn’t specify who would qualify for the “taker” label, but in context, Ryan apparently meant people who rely on social insurance programs. The same year, the congressman tried to end Medicare altogether,
Obama doesn’t need a “straw man”; he just needs Paul Ryan to keep talking.