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– and unlike the bailout and stimulus, those tax cuts are unlikely to be a temporary measure, and certainly wouldn't be repealed by Romney.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.

Photo: Getty
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Something is missing from the Brexit debate

Inside Westminster, few seem to have noticed or care about the biggest question mark in the Brexit talks. 

What do we know about the government’s Brexit strategy that we didn’t before? Not much, to be honest.

Theresa May has now said explicitly what her red lines on European law and free movement of labour said implicitly: that Britain is leaving the single market. She hasn’t ruled out continuing payments from Britain to Brussels, but she has said that they won’t be “vast”. (Much of the detail of Britain’s final arrangement is going to depend on what exactly “vast” means.)  We know that security co-operation will, as expected, continue after Brexit.

What is new? It’s Theresa May’s threat to the EU27 that Britain will walk away from a bad deal and exit without one that dominates the British newspapers.

“It's May Way or the Highway” quips City AM“No deal is better than a bad deal” is the Telegraph’s splash, “Give us a deal… or we walk” is the Mirror’s. The Guardian opts for “May’s Brexit threat to Europe”,  and “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed” is the Times’ splash.

The Mail decides to turn the jingoism up to 11 with “Steel of the new Iron Lady” and a cartoon of Theresa May on the white cliffs of Dover stamping on an EU flag. No, really.  The FT goes for the more sedate approach: “May eases Brexit fears but warns UK will walk away from 'bad deal’” is their splash.

There’s a lot to unpack here. The government is coming under fire for David Davis’ remark that even if Parliament rejects the Brexit deal, we will leave anyway. But as far as the Article 50 process is concerned, that is how it works. You either take the deal that emerges from the Article 50 process or have a disorderly exit. There is no process within exiting the European Union for a do-over.  

The government’s threat to Brussels makes sense from a negotiating perspective. It helps the United Kingdom get a better deal if the EU is convinced that the government is willing to suffer damage if the deal isn’t to its liking. But the risk is that the damage is seen as so asymmetric – and while the direct risk for the EU27 is bad, the knock-on effects for the UK are worse – that the threat looks like a bad bluff. Although European leaders have welcomed the greater clarity, Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, has reiterated that their order of priority is to settle the terms of divorce first, agree a transition and move to a wider deal after that, rather than the trade deal with a phased transition that May favours.

That the frontpage of the Irish edition of the Daily Mail says “May is wrong, any deal is better than no deal” should give you an idea of how far the “do what I want or I shoot myself” approach is going to take the UK with the EU27. Even a centre-right newspaper in Britain's closest ally isn't buying that Britain will really walk away from a bad deal. 

Speaking of the Irish papers, there’s a big element to yesterday’s speech that has eluded the British ones: May’s de facto abandonment of the customs union and what that means for the border between the North and the South. “May’s speech indicates Border customs controls likely to return” is the Irish Times’ splash, “Brexit open border plan “an illusion”” is the Irish Independent’s, while “Fears for jobs as ‘hard Brexit’ looms” is the Irish Examiner’s.

There is widespread agreement in Westminster, on both sides of the Irish border and in the European Union that no-one wants a return to the borders of the past. The appetite to find a solution is high on all sides. But as one diplomat reflected to me recently, just because everyone wants to find a solution, doesn’t mean there is one to be found. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.