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– and unlike the bailout and stimulus, those tax cuts are unlikely to be a temporary measure, and certainly wouldn't be repealed by Romney.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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In the 1980s, I went to a rally where Labour Party speakers shared the stage with men in balaclavas

The links between the Labour left and Irish republicanism are worth investigating.

A spat between Jeremy Corbyn’s henchfolk and Conor McGinn, the MP for St Helens North, caught my ear the other evening. McGinn was a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour, and he obligingly revisited the brouhaha for the listeners at home. Apparently, following an interview in May, in which McGinn called for Corbyn to “reach out beyond his comfort zone”, he was first threatened obliquely with the sack, then asked for a retraction (which he refused to give) and finally learned – from someone in the whips’ office – that his party leader was considering phoning up McGinn’s father to whip the errant whipper-in into line. On the programme, McGinn said: “The modus operandi that he [Corbyn] and the people around him were trying to do [sic], involving my family, was to isolate and ostracise me from them and from the community I am very proud to come from – which is an Irish nationalist community in south Armagh.”

Needless to say, the Labour leader’s office has continued to deny any such thing, but while we may nurture some suspicions about his behaviour, McGinn was also indulging in a little airbrushing when he described south Armagh as an “Irish ­nationalist community”. In the most recent elections, Newry and Armagh returned three Sinn Fein members to the Northern Ireland Assembly (as against one Social Democratic and Labour Party member) and one Sinn Fein MP to Westminster. When I last looked, Sinn Fein was still a republican, rather than a nationalist, party – something that McGinn should only be too well aware of, as the paternal hand that was putatively to have been lain on him belongs to Pat McGinn, the former Sinn Fein mayor of Newry and Armagh.

According to the Irish News, a “close friend” of the McGinns poured this cold water on the mini-conflagration: “Anybody who knows the McGinn family knows that Pat is very proud of Conor and that they remain very close.” The friend went on to opine: “He [Pat McGinn] found the whole notion of Corbyn phoning him totally ridiculous – as if Pat is going to criticise his son to save Jeremy Corbyn’s face. They would laugh about it were it not so sinister.”

“Sinister” does seem the mot juste. McGinn, Jr grew up in Bessbrook during the Troubles. I visited the village in the early 1990s on assignment. The skies were full of the chattering of British army Chinooks, and there were fake road signs in the hedgerows bearing pictograms of rifles and captioned: “Sniper at work”. South Armagh had been known for years as “bandit country”. There were army watchtowers standing sentinel in the dinky, green fields and checkpoints everywhere, manned by some of the thousands of the troops who had been deployed to fight what was, in effect, a low-level counter-insurgency war. Nationalist community, my foot.

What lies beneath the Corbyn-McGinn spat is the queered problematics of the ­relationship between the far left wing of the Labour Party and physical-force Irish republicanism. I also recall, during the hunger strikes of the early 1980s, going to a “Smash the H-Blocks” rally in Kilburn, north London, at which Labour Party speakers shared the stage with representatives from Sinn Fein, some of whom wore balaclavas and dark glasses to evade the telephoto lenses of the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

The shape-shifting relationship between the “political wing” of the IRA and the men with sniper rifles in the south Armagh bocage was always of the essence of the conflict, allowing both sides a convenient fiction around which to posture publicly and privately negotiate. In choosing to appear on platforms with people who might or might not be terrorists, Labour leftists also sprinkled a little of their stardust on themselves: the “stardust” being the implication that they, too, under the right circumstances, might be capable of violence in pursuit of their political ends.

On the far right of British politics, Her Majesty’s Government and its apparatus are referred to derisively as “state”. There were various attempts in the 1970s and 1980s by far-right groupuscules to link up with the Ulster Freedom Fighters and other loyalist paramilitary organisations in their battle against “state”. All foundered on the obvious incompetence of the fascists. The situation on the far left was different. The socialist credentials of Sinn Fein/IRA were too threadbare for genuine expressions of solidarity, but there was a sort of tacit confidence-and-supply arrangement between these factions. The Labour far left provided the republicans with the confidence that, should an appropriately radical government be elected to Westminster, “state” would withdraw from Northern Ireland. What the republicans did for the mainland militants was to cloak them in their penumbra of darkness: without needing to call down on themselves the armed might of “state”, they could imply that they were willing to take it on, should the opportunity arise.

I don’t for a second believe that Corbyn was summoning up these ghosts of the insurrectionary dead when he either did or did not threaten to phone McGinn, Sr. But his supporters need to ask themselves what they’re getting into. Their leader, if he was to have remained true to the positions that he has espoused over many years, should have refused to sit as privy counsellor upon assuming his party office, and refused all the other mummery associated with the monarchical “state”. That he didn’t do so was surely a strategic decision. Such a position would make him utterly unelectable.

The snipers may not be at work in south Armagh just now – but there are rifles out there that could yet be dug up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some in Sinn Fein knew where they are, but one thing’s for certain: Corbyn hasn’t got a clue, bloody or otherwise. 

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser