For some time now, I have heard people call Paul Ryan, Republican nominee for Vice President, and Tea Party poster boy, an intellectual. I’ve heard he’s wonkish, policy driven, and has a strong grasp on economics. I just don’t see it. Smart? Probably. But an intellectual? No.
An intellectual, and this is my own definition of the term, is a person who can think beyond the limits of their experience, who can apply abstract concepts to concrete situations and who can offer an understanding, perhaps even a solution to our problems. Let me emphasize OUR problems – philosophers focus on the problems of the many, not the few. Paul Ryan’s ideas, policies and subsequent votes solve the problems of people who have few of them while leaving those with many problems to rot. Ryan’s plan to gut Medicare and turn it into a voucher system serves only one master. He tries to sell it by saying the vouchers will increase with the cost of living. When has the rise in cost of living ever matched the rise in the cost of healthcare? Ryan’s plan has so many failings that I’m inclined to believe that he doesn’t want it to work for too many people.
The Ryan Plan, which the Romney/Ryan ticket may or may not be running on, depending on direction of the political wind, would double out-of-pocket costs for seniors and cut Medicaid. Indeed, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Ryan’s plans would eventually ‘unravel’ Medicare, leaving the poor without any safety net while private companies reap huge profits from insuring only healthy individuals. If one applies his formula to the problem of the unhealthy, it’s hard to see how making private companies wealthier is a solution. At the end of the day, those people are still sick, health care costs still rise, families still lose their homes, parents still cannot put food on the table and buy goods. How is this a solution? If anything it adds to the list of problems.
Intellectuals and philosophers throughout the ages have tried to solve the problems of the people – all of them. William James’ writing concerned the impact of egos on the public good. An individual’s ego can be imperialistic; man will often use it to impose his views and control others in a way that satisfies his own needs and interests. His ego dictates that others should think as he does; acceptance of other views, cultures, and openness, are not within his realm. Based on the analysis of his policies, Ryan’s own philosophy guarantees that his culture will thrive at the expense of others.
True intellectuals study history; they don’t re-write it. Ryan’s insistence that the President’s stimulus didn’t work in spite of the addition of over 4 million private sector jobs, including some that he sought for his own district and then, in an apparent bout of selective amnesia, forgot, is just such revisionist history. The stimulus has worked. If President Obama had been allowed to carry it further, it would have worked better. Indeed, Ryan and other Republicans have been working feverously against stimulus because Obama’s success puts them at a political disadvantage. Ryan’s 'philosophy' is based on power, not on fact, not on morality, not on anything but amassing more for himself and his posse.
We don’t like intellectuals. They don’t make us feel good all the time because they point out the reality. The truth is it’s going to be a tough road for us; the world is complicated; the economy can be easily influenced by things we can’t control. But we don’t like to hear those things. The boy who pointed out that the emperor has no clothes pisses us off. We want to believe that this country has never engaged in slavery, that every war has been justified. We want to believe that a flat tax is fair, that the homeless are living their dream. We want to believe that the ‘free market’ is always a ‘fair market’ and will take care of us. Just believing makes life momentarily easier.
Paul Ryan is smart for sure. His votes have benefited him personally. His views on Medicare and taxes benefit his social class. He talks a good game and with a smile on his face convinces middle and lower class people to help him make the rich richer. His supporters will keep pushing the intellectual thing as long as we let them. Perhaps it’s time to see Paul Ryan for what he is, not what he projects. Yes, he’s a smart one, that Paul Ryan…..but not for you and me.