Is Rep. Paul Ryan a Legislative Sociopath?

The House Budget Committee Chairman's proposed plan displays a stunning lack of compassion.
Publish date:
April 4, 2012
budget cuts, economics, food stamps, Paul Ryan, M

I've got my eye on you, Paul Ryan.

Though part of my gig here at XOJane involves politics, I've hesitated to wade into certain topical waters for fear of sounding like a mewling infant. I'm a humorist by trade – sometimes an onstage comedian, sometimes a maker-of-pop-culture-or-political-jokes teevee commentator, most often a blogger and author – and while I feel perfectly qualified to inject humor into smart discussions of serious general issues that affect ladies and other humans, I don't consider myself an expert on the nitty-gritty details.

I can talk about the ethical, moral, and legal questions surrounding Roe v. Wade, but I can't quote the decision to you. I can't break down the principles of Keynesian economics for you, and I've never read Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations." I can make jokes about any number of politicians or political scandals, but I'd likely fail the citizenship test new Americans must take (to be fair, I've heard most folks would fail it without studying hard).

I've stuck to softball issues because I've been afraid you'd think I was a damn fool if I tried to weigh in on the contretemps over the Affordable Healthcare Act, for example, or even the simple question of whether voters ought to be required to show state-issued I.D.s at the polls.

Then I read about Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposal and thought, "Fuck it. This one's too big to ignore."

Rep. Ryan has trotted out the kind of budget that only a rich fellow with no ability to feel compassion for the poor would create. It's legislative sociopathy wrapped in a folksy DIY, pick-yerself-up-by-yer-bootstraps, we-don't-need-no-big-gubmint package.

Thankfully for regular people like me, Ryan's message is clear as day: fuck the poor. I don't know why he chose to make it so obvious – a wilier, tricksier politician would've hidden the nastier bits in some kind of rhetorical cloaking device so that ordinary folks and casual observers wouldn't get it.

The problem for Ryan is, we get it. He made it easy. And we're not too psyched about it.

The man himself, from his official website. Does this look like a dude totally lacking in empathy?

Here's why I use the term "legislative sociopathy": among other things, a sociopath is a person who has no ability to feel compassion for other people. He or she cannot (or will not, depending on who you ask) perceive the real consequences of his or her actions, even when those consequences are dire. (Check out this recent It Happened to Me for a profile of a physically abusive sociopathic husband.) Most prominent among various characteristics of the sociopath is his or her lack of empathy.

A stunning lack of empathy is also the most prominent characteristic of Ryan's proposed budget. Check out what the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has to say about it:

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget plan would get at least 62 percent of its $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts over ten years (relative to a continuation of current policies) from programs that serve people of limited means…The plan of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, who co-chaired President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, established, as a basic principle, that deficit reduction should not increase poverty or widen inequality. The Ryan plan charts a different course, turning its biggest cannons on low- and moderate-income people.

Ryan's plan also includes a $200 million increase in defense spending, presumably to continue fighting our various and sundry awesome and totally justified wars.

As for cuts, we're looking at major slashing of Medicaid, for one (goodbye, healthcare for 19 million people!) Then there are Pell Grants (goodbye, college!) and SNAP cuts (goodbye, EBT card/food!) Ryan's proposal would change eligibility requirements for food stamps and kick between 8 and 10 million people out of the program. In tax-land, it's no surprise that big tax cuts in Ryan's proposal would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthiest Americans.

So here's who is down with the Ryan plan: House Republicans and presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Here's who is not down with it: people of conscience, Democrats, humans with the ability to feel compassion for others. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote, "That plan, by the way, is the most radical reverse-Robin Hood proposal propounded by any political party in modern America."

I like Reich's turn of phrase – "radical reverse-Robin Hood proposal." For surely this is what Ryan's plan does – steal from the poor to give to those who don't want for anything. I find it particularly disturbing and disappointing that the GOP of today, which loves to posit itself as the party of Jesus Christ, would get in line to support a plan that so enthusiastically refutes basic Christian principles of love and empathy for the poor.

Ryan's official biography touts his membership in the parish of St. John Vianney in Wisconsin. Either he hasn't been listening to the gospels or he goes to a church with one jacked-up version of Christianity, because his budget proposal displays about as much compassion as a vulture circling overhead while a man dies of thirst on the ground.