Now that Paul Ryan has been tapped as Mitt Romney’s veep candidate, he’ll take on an elevated role as a critic of Obama’s stimulus package. Ryan will be aggressively painting the stimulus — whose legacy is central to the campaign — as a failure, while making a broader ideological case for rolling back government intervention in the economy.
So it’s worth pointing out that Ryan’s home town of Janesville, Wis., where he still lives, is recovering economically in no small part because of money from the stimulus and other federal grants.
The relevant info is toward the end of Ryan Lizza’s recent New Yorker profile of Ryan. As Lizza put it, “government spending programs” are “at the heart of his hometown’s recovery.”
Lizza reported that several major economic development projects financed by federal money are underway in Ryan’s home town. There’s the Janesville Innovation Center, which will “provide entrepreneurs with commercial space in which to launch their ideas.” This is being funded by a $1.2 million stimulus grant, Lizza notes.
That’s not all. As Lizza notes, the federal government is contributing more than $10 million to a new facility in Janesville that will produce a medical tracer that used to be made outside the United States. The new plant could employ some 150 people.
John Beckford, the head of a local economic development group and a Ryan supporter, explained to Lizza how Janesville is reinventing itself after a GM plant closed in the town. The town — which is near a ring of major cities such as Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Des Moines, and Minneapolis — is remaking itself as a “redistribution hub for major companies,” Lizza reported. One key to making this work is a major infrastructure project that Ryan has encouraged: I-90 around Janesville will be expanded from four to eight lanes, which “will be financed as part of a billion-dollar federal and state highway project.”
All of this will loom larger, now that Ryan will be criticizing Obama’s stimulus and broader vision of government intervention in the economy from his perch as the No. 2 on the GOP presidential ticket.
This goes to the heart of what this presidential race is all about. Ryan has been pounding away at Obama’s “didn’t build that” speech and call for more spending as proof that Obama envisions too central a role for government in our economy and society. When Lizza pointed out to Ryan that this seems at odds with the fact that federal spending is helping drive his home town’s economic recovery, Ryan didn’t disagree.
“Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature,” Ryan told Lizza. “As if we’re some bizarre individualists who are hard-core libertarians. It’s a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy.”
In reality, what all this shows is that it is Romney and Ryan who are painting a caricature of Obama’s views, positions and policies. They need to suggest Obama’s argument — that the success of business is enabled partly by government investment in the vitality of the larger American system — means he thinks only government is responsible for people’s success, demeaning the central role that hard work and individual initiative play. This distortion is the only way Romney and Ryan can paint Obama’s vision as radical. But it isn’t radical at all — as the recovery of Ryan’s own home town demonstrates.