Paul Ryan's Word Salad

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 11 2012 9:27 AM

Paul Ryan's Word Salad

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ROCHESTER, MI - OCTOBER 08: Congressman Paul Ryan attends the Congressman Paul Ryan Rally With Kid Rock at Oakland University Athletic Center on October 8, 2012 in Rochester, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Photo by Scott Legato/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- One factor separating Paul Ryan from Generic Conservative Republican X is a self-confidence worthy of Dale Carnegie. In the Republican doldrums of 2005 to 2009, when his colleagues were being picked off, Ryan was writing budgets for them to sign onto. In 2010, as his party was strolling toward an election win, he proposed another budget and talked to "the other side" about it.* He gave three long interviews to Ezra Klein, who warns liberals not to expect Ryan to say something dumb or fail to sound agreeable.

He cheers liberals by remembering how Ryan was backed into a corner on "Obamacare."

“You’re having a person design how insurance can be sold.” Then how does his plan make sure people aren’t sold defective products? “In the Patient’s Choice Act, we do an actuarially equivalent minimum in each exchange that’s equal to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Standard Option.” Well, isn’t that pretty much what Obamacare does? 
What followed was health-care word salad. “The Senate bill goes a lot further than that. You need to define what insurance is. I agree with that. But what we’re trying to achieve here is a system in which the patient is the driver of it, not government bureaucrats.” Then how come you’ve got government bureaucrats deciding what insurance is?
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Ryan doesn't talk quite the same way on the campaign trail. I agree with Ezra here: The reason that Ryan's RNC speech got so panned, so quickly, was that the loveable wonk who charmed the MSM with his gosh-just-look-at-these-numbers presentations had transformed into a "you didn't build that" talking point cyborg. And a debate is a perfect place to spit out numbers and plan names without a moderator fact-checking you. It's easy to imagine him winning. It's just as easy to imagine Joe Biden calling an answer "malarky" and blowing it up with his own references and numbers. This idea that Biden isn't a "wonk" underrates how many bills the guy's passed, and how much time he's spent negotiating (failing, most recently) long-term budget deals. But I'll have a preview of the Biden playbook up later today.

*In my limited experience, this changed as Ryan became Budget Chairman. I was once asked by an editor at another magazine to fill in and interview Ryan when the first interviewer, a conservative, ducked out. A few hours before the interview, the editor called back to tell me the bad news: The Ryan folks wanted to reschedule the interview with a different conservative.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.