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Posted at 02:35 PM ET, 08/30/2012

Five ways Paul Ryan’s GM attack was dishonest

Earlier, I pointed out that Paul Ryan’s convention address was “breathtakingly dishonest.” One example of his falsehoods was his story about the General Motors plant in Janesville. Here’s the full quote:

President Barack Obama came to office during an economic crisis, as he has reminded us a time or two.  Those were very tough days, and any fair measure of his record has to take that into account.  My home state voted for President Obama. When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. 
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. 

Since this quote is getting a lot of attention, I just want to expand on what I wrote earlier and offer five reasons this was a blatant distortion.

1. The timeline: As I wrote earlier, Ryan doesn’t mention that GM announced on June 3, 2008, that it would close the plant. Not only was Obama still more than six months from his inauguration, but he also only clinched the Democratic nomination that same day. The plant effectively shut down in December 2008, with a skeleton crew staying on until April 2009. As I said this morning, “there was no way Obama could have saved that auto plant without also discovering time travel.”

2. The deceptive framing: Still, many conservatives have said Ryan’s argument is that Obama hasn’t improved the economy enough to bring the plant back. But if that Ryan’s defense, he clearly tried to imply to viewers that Obama was promising that the plant would stay open. He has been even more explicit about his meaning on the stump, saying in Ohio only two weeks ago, “I remember President Obama visiting it when he was first running, saying he’ll keep that plant open. One more broken promise.” Obama, of course, made no such promise, but Ryan would prefer voters didn’t think that.

3. The inconsistent blame game: Note Ryan admits that “any fair measure of his record has to take [the economic crisis] into account.” Now, this is a step in the right direction truth-wise, but if that’s the case, how is President Obama to blame for a plant closure in (if we’re being extremely generous) April 2009, less than three months into his term? After all, Romney’s own campaign has said that Romney’s first year in office shouldn’t count toward his job creation record. So much for taking a “fair measure” of the president’s record.

4. The philosophical self-contradiction: Paul Ryan has made his name in part as a small-government man. Last night he promised he and Mitt Romney would protect voters from “a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us,” and he repeated the deceptive “you didn’t build that” attack. But saving the plant would have required a ‘big government’ bailout. Ryan himself knows this: Not only did he vote for the auto bailout, but in September 2008, Ryan joined other Wisconsin leaders in a meeting with GM CEO Rick Wagoner, where he helped “pitch a $224 million proposal that included roughly $50 million in state enterprise zone tax credits, local government grants worth $22 million and major contract concessions from the United Auto Workers union local.” (By contrast, the Bush administration praised the plant closure as a sign GM was “adapting well” to the downturn.) To invoke the Janesville closing and make a small-government argument is having it both ways.

5. The other Obama quote: Again, conservatives have argued that Ryan used the Janesville plant as a symbol of how the Obama recovery has failed. Indeed, the Romney campaign now insists that Ryan wasn’t blaming Obama for the plant closing. But if that’s so, then Ryan should have used a different Obama quote, from October 2008:

Reports that the GM plant I visited in Janesville may shut down sooner than expected are a painful reminder of the tough economic times facing working families across this country.
This news is also a reminder that Washington needs to finally live up to its promise to help our automakers compete in our global economy. As president, I will lead an effort to retool plants like the GM facility in Janesville so we can build the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow and create good-paying jobs in Wisconsin and all across America.

So yes, in February 2008, Obama had said that the plant could be able to stay open, but in the midst of that fall economic collapse, he changed his view to account for reality. That’s what he was promising the voters of Janesville when he entered office, not what Paul Ryan claims that he was promising. You can argue whether the president has succeeded in “retooling plants” like Janesville’s. Regardless, using that quote, not Obama’s February one, would be honest. But it also wouldn’t be Paul Ryan.

Follow James Downie on Twitter.

By  |  02:35 PM ET, 08/30/2012

 
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