By Fred Keeley
Special to Calbuzz
Just the other day, Paul Ryan told AARP members in New Orleans that he and Mitt Romney “believe that it’s the dreamers and the entrepreneurs, the workers and the families, not the government, who built this economy.” But the truth is, Ryan’s own family and the family business relied on and flourished precisely because of government spending.
Ryan’s assertion that government has no role in building the economy was especially ironic because he made the argument just 32 seconds after introducing his mother, Betty, and describing her brave conduct upon the untimely death of her husband, Ryan’s father, when Paul — who now says he’s a “Catholic deer hunter” — was a young high schooler.
“I am very proud of my mom, and I’m happy she is having a great retirement. You see, my dad died when I was 16,” he said. “Social Security survivor’s benefits helped my family. They helped my mom start a new career. She got on a bus every weekday for years and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison to go to school. She learned new skills to start her small business.”
To fully appreciate the precious (if not sad) irony when these two statements are taken together, it’s helpful to know what Ryan knew as he uttered them – that in 1884 his grandfather, Patrick W. Ryan, founded P.W. Ryan & Sons, the family construction company that exists today as Ryan Incorporated Central. It’s a healthy business that was built on and has relied on government money for 128 years.
Patrick Ryan secured dozens of railroad construction contracts — a mix of (mostly) public and (some) private money. Feeling pretty good about how all that worked out, Ryan’s uncles, Thomas and Donald, continued to mine that vein for more and more purely government contracts to construct (deep breath required here) public transit lines, public roads and the first runways at Chicago’s iconic O’Hare Field.
In the 1950s, when Congress appropriated billions to realize President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s dream of a federal interstate highway system, the Ryan family secured federal contracts worth millions of dollars that, fortunately, employed large numbers of Ryan Incorporated Central construction workers for years.
Since Ryan’s election to Congress — thus assuring that no Ryan child would be left behind when it came to government job-creating dough flowing into the inter-generational family business — the Ryans won and have performed admirably on an additional 22 government contracts.
In fairness to the conservative congressman from Wisconsin, it’s only proper to note that in addition to youthful employment making Big Macs and driving the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, he did work in the private sector — for the family business as a marketing consultant.
On the other hand, Ryan’s serious professional life has been spent in jobs where his paycheck is signed by Uncle Sam, not Uncle Matthew Ryan. Before his election to Congress, he served several years as an aide to a United States Senator.
And let’s consider just a few facts Ryan overlooked in his AARP speech. His mother got by on Social Security survivor benefits – a vital government program. That bus Mom rode was public transit. It traveled on streets paid for by government funds. Its destination was a public college (like Ryan’s alma mater, Ohio University). None of that diminishes Betty Ryan’s building of her own interior decorating business. It does, though, cast some doubt on the veracity of her son’s assertion that government plays no role in job creation or a vital economy.
Adding another small test of Ryan’s truthfulness in the AARP speech is his on-again-off-again romance with Congressional earmarks. To paraphrase Sen. John Kerry, Ryan was for them, before he was against them, before he was for them.
The 2008 Congressional Record shows that the bright, well-read, and obviously hard working gentleman from Wisconsin pledged to stop seeking earmarks. Perhaps earmarking is a drug best quit in stages, rather than cold turkey. Immediate compliance with his promised withdrawl from earmarks would have prevented him from successfully seeking $3.28 million for the Janesville Wisconsin Transit District, $1.38 million for the Ice Age Trail (no comment necessary about this one), another $735,000 for those needy folks at Janesville Transit and a few hundred thousand public dollars for an environmental study of the Kenosha Harbor.
Additionally, it is worthy of noting that Ryan was also willing to suspend his core beliefs when it comes to recapitalizing the nation’s banks in the heat of the recent economic meltdown. The $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP) is, whether appropriate or not, a classic example of bi-partisan privatizing profits and socializing problems. Ryan voted “Aye”.
Let’s be clear on what the point is here. None but the most heartless would begrudge the widow Ryan for accepting Social Security survivor’s benefits, the use of public transit, earning a degree from a public college — all to keep a roof over the heads of her beloved children. A big shout-out to her for that.
As to her son, Paul . . . well that’s another story.
For the distinguished gentleman from Wisconsin, in a speech before the nation’s preeminent senior organization, to claim that the government plays no role in creating, stimulating, fostering or sustaining the economy is knowingly false.
To do so without disclosing that his family has, over four generations, operated a highly successful private sector business, dependent almost entirely on government funding is, at best, the height of hypocrisy.
Democrat Fred Keeley is the elected Treasurer of the County of Santa Cruz. He is a former member of the California Assembly (1996-2002).