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Ryan Continues Pathetic Hand-Waving on Tax Specifics

Paul Ryan’s presence on the Presidential ticket has grown more and more comical. I didn’t think it was possible for Republicans to choose two Vice Presidential candidates in a row that dragged on their ticket, but I don’t think there’s any question that Ryan has become a negative.

And where this has really fallen apart for the Wisconsin Congressman is in his complete inability to cover for his real goals with hand-waving. For years, Ryan was able to pretend to be a wonk and get away with it, focusing on “the numbers” without ever actually answering a difficult questions about the implications of his numbers. They NEVER added up. Ryan’s budget would have reduced non-Medicare and Social Security spending to 3.75% of GDP within 20 years, when Mitt Romney has vowed never to cut defense below 4%. In other words, by implication Ryan would have to eliminate the federal government as everything but an HMO for elderly people backed by an army. But he never had to answer a question about this.

Now he does have to answer more piercing questions, and he can’t. The hand-waves have become painfully obvious. This exchange with Chris Wallace is perhaps the epitome of this lame technique on Ryan’s part. Read the whole exchange at the link, but here’s the classic snippet:

WALLACE: But I have to point out, you haven’t given me the math.

RYAN: No, but, well… I don’t have the time… it would take me too long to go through all the math.

I’m pretty sure Fox News has an endless amount of tape. Even if they didn’t want to broadcast the mathematics argument over their air, they could have put it on the Web. The weakness of the “I’ve run out of time” excuse is just painful and prime for mockery.

But Ryan has nothing else, so he ran this game again on the Charlie Sykes radio show.

I didn’t want to get into all the math of this and then get everyone to start changing the channel.

He then goes into a massively simplified version of this, saying that we bring in $1.2 trillion in revenue every year and have $1 trillion in “tax preferences” through tax expenditures, therefore it’s possible to reduce tax rates by 20% and have them made up through closing those tax preferences. But he doesn’t explain the distributional location of those tax preferences which make the core argument of the Romney campaign impossible. They say that they want to reduce the tax rates by 20% while getting the funds to pay for that entirely out of tax preferences for the rich. And the analysts who have looked at this consider this impossible. Because Romney and Ryan don’t want to actually identify the tax preferences they would eliminate, this all has to get done at a level of inference and allusion. And so Ryan has to make up lame excuses like “math takes too long” or “math bores people.” Math doesn’t take too long or bore people when it’s the math that determines how much of their money that they currently get through a tax preference will get taken away. People have no problem hanging in to hear that.

It’s just political malpractice. And it’s why Romney and Ryan are losing this race.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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