Paul Ryan's convention speech heralds a post-factual age

Time and again, Ryan mislead, misspoke, and made Demonstrably Misleading Assertions.

Paul Ryan made his big speech at the Republican National Convention last night, and ThinkProgress summed it up best: "An energetic, post-factual speech by Ryan." Time and again, Ryan mislead, misspoke, and made "Demonstrably Misleading Assertions".

If you're interested in the politics of it, he's also been attacked on style – Mother Jones' Kevin Drum recalled Harrison Ford's famous snipe to George Lucas, "you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it" – and doubtless, his "John Galtesque" evocation of the mythical grey, socialist hellhole of Obama's America will win over some. But if Ryan gets away with some of what he said, political discourse in the United States has a lot to answer for.

The most egregious of Ryan's statements was an attack on Obama for failing to protect a General Motors plant in his constituency:

A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: “I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.” That’s what he said in 2008.

Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.

The plant's closure was announced in June 2008, over six months before Obama was inaugurated. Ryan probably knows this, because on 3 June, he issued a statement bemoaning the closure.

Given his (completely undeserved) reputation for being a serious, competent man when it comes to fiscal policy, one would expect Ryan to be better when dealing with those matter. Sadly not.

Ryan said "President Obama has added more debt than any other president before him". In fact, as the New Republic point out, by far the largest aspect of this decade's deficit projection is the Bush-era tax cuts – and unlike the bailout and stimulus, those tax cuts are unlikely to be a temporary measure, and certainly wouldn't be repealed by Romney.

Ryan also tried to blame Obama for the US downgrade. S&P, in their rationale for the downgrade, explicitly blame the Bush tax cuts, and explicitly blame Congressional Republicans – of which Ryan is, of course, one – for the failure to scrap them. And more generally, the blame for the fear of a US default in the Summer of 2010 lies exclusively with the Republicans, who engineered the debt ceiling show-down.

Ryan also attacked Obama for not acting on the recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles commission, a bi-partisan body, on which Ryan sat, formed to examine the national debt. Obama didn't do a whole lot with the recommendations – but only Ryan actively voted against the report.

If he can't avoid misleading even in the areas where he claims special competence, Ryan certainly isn't going to be a stickler for accuracy in the broader debate. A lightning round-up of various "facts", checked:

  • Ryan said the stimulus "cost $831 billion – the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government." As Ezra Klein notes, "the Congressional Research Service estimates (pdf) that World War II cost $4.1 trillion in 2011 dollars. That was the biggest one-time expenditure ever, not the stimulus. Ryan is simply incorrect."
  • Ryan attacked Obama for "raiding" Medicare. Ryan's budget takes the same amount of money from Medicare. Ryan has walked back this part of his budget since pairing with Romney, but has not said where he will make up the savings – and the Romney budget requires extraordinary cuts in non-defence spending.
  • Ryan said that the Affordable Care act would impose "new taxes on nearly a million small businesses." In fact, businesses under 50 employees are exempt from the employer mandate, and at least 1.4m small business are eligible for the health insurance tax credit. The only small businesses which aren't helped by the law are medical device manufacturers, who are subject to a new tax. But there are just over 5,000 of them in the US – rather fewer than a million.

Ryan opened his speech by attacking Obama for the negativity of his campaign, and then proceeded to spend the next half hour doing nothing but attack Obama – largely for things he didn't actually do. It signifies a candidacy, and a presidential race, which has fully embraced the post-truth age. Don't believe me? Even Fox News have called Ryan's speech deceiving, concluding:

Republicans should be ashamed that there was even one misrepresentation in Ryan’s speech but sadly, there were many.

Paul Ryan waves to the people. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue