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Paul Ryan on Civil Liberties


Paul Ryan

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate and likely future contender for the Republican Party's presidential nomination.

Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images.

Biographical Summary:

Ryan earned a B.A. in economics and political science from Miami University, where he discovered the writings of Ayn Rand. He started his career in politics at age 22 when he joined the staff of Senator Bob Kasten (R-WI). After Kasten was defeated by Russ Feingold in the 1992 U.S. Senate election, Ryan spent a few years working for the Koch brothers' Empower America/FreedomWorks conservative advocacy organization before joining the staff of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) as legislative director in 1996.

Election to the U.S. House of Representatives:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) faced a tough second-term challenger in Rep. Mark Neumann (R-WI)—but in order to run against Feingold, Neumann had to leave his U.S. House seat in Wisconsin's District 1. The district had long been competitive—three of Neumann's four predecessors were Democrats—and party leaders supported Paul Ryan as his replacement. Ryan was a safe choice—who was, despite being only 28 years old, very well-established within the party apparatus—and easily won the Republican nomination for the seat with more than 80% of the vote. Ryan's general election race against the Democratic nominee, Lydia Spottswood, was much more competitive—Spottswood had nearly defeated Neumann two years earlier—but Ryan captured 57% of the vote, and has won reelection six times with comfortable margins.

U.S. House Career and the Romney/Ryan Ticket:

Paul Ryan's career in the U.S. House has been marked by his ability to merge the two traditional strains of Republican fiscal conservatism. Traditional paleoconservatives, like Ron Paul, tend to be deficit hawks who focus on reducing government spending; supporters of supply-side economics, which was popularized by Ronald Reagan, tend to favor tax cuts for the wealthy, which they argue spur investment and stimulate the economy. Paul Ryan uses what George W. Bush referred to as a "starve the beast" approach: use tax cuts as a way of reducing government revenue, then cite the reduced income (and subsequent deficit) as justification for eliminating programs that would otherwise be too popular to cut. Ryan has become famous for his bold plans to eliminate Medicare as a public program, reduce Social Security payments for low-wage earners, and cut Medicaid by 34% over a ten-year period. When Mitt Romney selected Ryan as his running mate in August 2012, Ryan's presence on the ticket immediately boosted its credibility within the Tea Party movement.

Ryan's Approach to Social Issues:

Ryan is both a Roman Catholic and a follower of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, and he has accepted these two ostensibly contradictory positions in a way that happens to line up, on all points, with the general priorities of the Republican Party platform. Like many members of the Religious Right, Ryan is both radically conservative on matters of sexual morality (with a stunning 93% rating from the American Family Association) and inattentive on matters dealing with traditional Christian social justice teachings. This gives him the freedom to target lesbians and gay men and sexually active heterosexual women under the guise of Christianity (which allows him to reject Objectivism's sex-positivity), while simultaneously targeting immigrants and the poor under the guise of Objectivism (which allows him to reject Christianity's emphasis on protecting the marginalized). By marbling these seemingly contrary positions - supply-side economics and paleoconservatism on fiscal issues, sexual proscriptivism and selective libertarianism on social issues - he becomes, in many respects, a perfect symbol of the contemporary Republican Party.

Paul Ryan on Civil Liberties, Issue-by-Issue:

Paul Ryan's ACLU rating for the 2010-2011 legislative year was 0%. His lifetime ACLU rating is 13%.

On drug policy issues, Ryan holds an abysmal -10% rating from NORML and is a staunch opponent of medical marijuana legalization.

On First Amendment issues, Ryan holds a 0% rating from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and has supported a ban on flag desecration.

On Second Amendment issues, Ryan holds an A rating from the National Rifle Association.

On racial justice issues, Ryan holds an F rating from the NAACP and voted counter to the organization's platform 18 times out of 20. Among other things, Ryan voted against a federal program to examine suspicious deaths in police custody, voted against grants for minority-owned businesses, opposed the Election Assistance Commission, and voted against settling a discrimination lawsuit filed against the federal government by a group of African-American farmers who had been illegally excluded from USDA grants on the basis of race.

On reproductive rights, Ryan can be characterized as extremely conservative. He supports banning abortion in all cases, including cases in which the mother's life is in danger, and opposes emergency contraception, IUDs, and any other forms of artificial birth control that could potentially interfere with the uterine implantation of a fertilized egg. His position, if applied consistently, would also ban the use of in vitro fertilization. He holds a 0% rating from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, and an 100% rating from the conservative National Right to Life Committee.

On other feminist issues, Ryan has consistently opposed equal pay legislation and grants for women-owned businesses, and opposed revisions to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that would have provided clearer protections for lesbians and for women living in American Indian territory.

On lesbian and gay rights, Ryan can be characterized as mostly conservative. While he broke with his party by voting for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in 2007, he opposed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, supports a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and has made an effort to ban the adoption of children by same-sex couples in the District of Columbia.
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