Marathon Man: Does Paul Ryan Play Fast and Loose with the Facts?

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

In an article for Huffington Post, Miles Mogulescu wrote the following about Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan:

He comes off like a Midwest choir boy who grew up busing tables and just wants to help unemployed 20-year-olds get jobs and move out of their parents’ house. This ‘aw shucks’ act may play well among heartland voters who could swing the election.

But Ryan lies like a hooker telling her john that she loves him. And given a media that tends to cover the horse race rather than the substance, there’s a good chance he could lie his way all the way to the vice presidency.

Mogulescu—among others—has written and spoken about the number of inaccuracies and untruths included in the speech that Paul Ryan gave at the Republican National Convention last week.

Sally Kohn of Fox News wrote:

to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech. On this measure, while it was Romney who ran the Olympics, Ryan earned the gold.

The good news is that the Romney-Ryan campaign has likely created dozens of new jobs among the legions of additional fact checkers that media outlets are rushing to hire to sift through the mountain of cow dung that flowed from Ryan’s mouth. Said fact checkers have already condemned certain arguments that Ryan still irresponsibly repeated.

In Paul Ryan’s breathtakingly dishonest speech, James Downie wrote:

Yesterday, at an ABC News panel, Mitt Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said, “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.” Wednesday’s speech from Paul Ryan certainly took that disdain for truth to heart, as his address was filled with falsehoods from start to finish.

Pat Garofalo of ThinkProgress wrote that Ryan’s speech “was riddled with lies.”

Matthew Dowd, a former chief political strategist for George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, also criticized Ryan for the falsehoods included in his speech on ABC’s This Week. He said that “at some point, the truth should matter”:

DOWD: Paul Ryan, what he did in his speech, I think so stretched the truth. And I like Paul Ryan, have a lot of great respect for Paul Ryan, but the elements that he said about closing the GM plant which closed before Barack Obama took President [sic], about the Simpson-Bowles bill which he opposed and then all of a sudden he faults Barack Obama for. At some point, the truth should matterHe was trying to convey that Barack Obama was responsible for the closing of that GM plant and that isn’t true.

Aviva Shen provided us with this list of what she thinks are “Ryan’s most glaring lies from his speech”:

1. “A downgraded America.” Ryan blamed the president for the nation’s credit downgrade in August 2011 after Republicans threatened to allow the government to default on its debt for the first time in history. But the ratings agency explicitly blamed “Republicans saying that they refuse to accept any tax increases as part of a larger deal.”

2. “More debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined.” Romney has made the almost identical claim, that Obama has amassed more debt “as almost all of the other presidents combined.” But their math doesn’t add up: when Obama took office, the national debt was $10.626 trillion. It has increased to slightly above $15 trillion.

3. Shuttered General Motors plant is “one more broken promise.” Ryan described a GM plant that closed down in his hometown, Janesville, Wisconsin, and blamed Obama for breaking his promise to keep the plant open when he visited during his campaign. But Obama never made that promise, and the plant shut down in December 2008, before Obama even took office.

4. Obama “did exactly nothing” on Bowles-Simpson. Ryan said, “He created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.” In fact, Ryan was instrumental in sabotaging the commission, leading the other House Republicans in voting against the plan.

5. “$716 billion, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.” Ryan’s favorite lie is a deliberate distortion of Obamacare’s savings from eliminating inefficiencies. Furthermore, Ryan’s own plan for Medicare includes these savings. Romney has vowed to restore these cuts, which would render the trust fund insolvent 8 years ahead of schedule.

6. “The greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak.” Ryan closed the speech with an invocation of social responsibility, saying, “The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.” However, numerous clergy members have condemned Ryan’s budget plan as “cruel,” and “an immoral disaster” because of its devastating cuts in social programs the poor and sick rely on. Meanwhile, Ryan would give ultra-rich individuals and corporations $3 trillion in tax breaks.

Paul Krugman feels that Ryan’s “big lie” is his claim that “a Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare.” Krugman claims that it would actually “kill the program.”

I understand that politicians often fudge the truth, leave out details, take their opponents’ comments out of context, etc., in order to win votes. But one “untruth” that Ryan told recently in an interview with Hugh Hewitt confounded me. Ryan claimed that he had once run a marathon in under three hours.

Excerpt from Ryan’s interview with Hewitt:

HH: That’s okay. Hey, in high school, what did you do in high school? Were you a speech and debate guy? Were you a bandie? What were you?

PR: No, I was student government and athletics, honor society, you know, that kind of thing. I was kind of a combination. I was class president my junior year, I was the school board rep my senior year. I lettered in varsity, you know, my first year in high school, mostly soccer and track. I was a distance runner and a soccer player. So kind of well-rounded. I can’t, I can play a cowbell. That’s about it for instruments.

HH: Are you still running?

PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.

HH: But you did run marathons at some point?

PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.

HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?

PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.

HH: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…

PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.

Well, it turns out that Ryan has run but one marathon in his life—and that was when he was just twenty years old and in college. He did not run that marathon in under three hours as he had claimed. He did—in fact—run the marathon in just over four hours.

So why, I wonder, would someone who is running for vice president and who knows the press will likely pick up on everything he says lie about something so trivial?

It appears that James Fallows of The Atlantic wonders too. He wrote: “the mystery in this case is why someone just stepping into the spotlight of national attention would risk telling an (a) entirely unnecessary and (b) very easily disprovable lie. It doesn’t make “normal” political sense, where you lie to get out of a jam, or because you think you can’t be caught. ..”

He continued:

We’ve all exaggerated to make ourselves look better. You’ve probably done it. I know I have. (Let’s not think about the whole category of “what happens on first dates.”) But out of prudent self-protection, most people have a sense of “situational awareness” when it comes to self-burnishment. Somebody you’re talking to in a bar, and you’re never likely to see again, is in one category. Somebody interviewing you for national broadcast is in another. That is what I’m having a hard time fully understanding.

You’re on a nationwide show. You’re one of the handful of people most prominently in the national eye. You know that everything you say is going to be recorded, parsed, and examined. And still — last week, not at a freshman mixer or in a Jaycees speech somewhere — you happily reel off a claim that is impressive enough to get people’s interest and admiration, and specific enough to be easily testable.

I don’t understand this. I can understand, while obviously deploring, why Bill Clinton brazenly said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” on national TV. It was a flat-out lie that to him might have seemed necessary to his survival. I can understand the little embellishments politicians and everyone else make — especially when these occur in early days of the campaign, or in odd corners where you think no one is listening.

That’s why I mention it one more time: This doesn’t fit the normal model of “efficient” political or human truth-shaving. It was a lie that was totally unnecessary — if he’d said he had run a five-hour marathon, we’d still know that he’s physically very fit. And telling it in his current state of 24/7-scrutiny and prominence was either unbelievably naive (“no one will ever double-check this”) or plain reckless (“I don’t care if they do”). Unless we get into Jonah Lehrer territory — that is, the realm of people who self-destructively take needless risks with the truth — I just am amazed.

Are you amazed too? What do you think about Paul Ryan’s marathon claim?


Lie or Mistake? Paul Ryan’s Marathoning Past (The New Yorker)

How Fast Can Paul Ryan Run? (The New Yorker)

The Real Mystery of Paul Ryan’s Marathon Time by James Fallows (The Atlantic)

Three ‘Post-Truth’ Related Items (The Atlantic)

Paul Ryan Has Not Run Sub-3:00 Marathon (Runner’s World)

Paul Ryan Interview (Hugh Hewitt)

Did Paul Ryan Really Run a Sub-Three-Hour Marathon? No, He Didn’t. (Slate)

Paul Ryan: Lying Liar (Huffington Post)

Paul Ryan Address: Convention Speech Built On Demonstrably Misleading Assertions (Huffington Post)

Fox News: Paul Ryan’s Speech “Greatest Number of Blatant Lies” (Daily Kos)

Paul Ryan’s speech in 3 words (Fox News)

Bush Chief Political Strategist: Paul Ryan’s Speech Was Full Of Lies (ThinkProgress)

6 Worst Lies In Paul Ryan’s Speech (ThinkProgress)

Paul Ryan’s breathtakingly dishonest speech (Washington Post)

Facts Take a Beating in Acceptance Speeches (New York Times)

The Medicare Killers (New York Times)

110 thoughts on “Marathon Man: Does Paul Ryan Play Fast and Loose with the Facts?

  1. Elaine M. 1, September 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm

    The Wisconsin congressman’s positions on debt and deficit reduction have never been about political posturing, supporters say. Rather, they are the logical result of years spent mining the numbers, just a man and his calculator, making dire calculations about the country’s fiscal path.
    I’ve been mining the numbers for years. Hyperinflation is the result. Your dollar is going to be worth a dime.

    I know how to make a generator work, or an engine. I also know how to balance your checkbook. Which is worth more?


    “His speech at the convention was so dangerous to the Obama Democrats, with their aspirations toward European-style democratic socialism, that they unleashed their “fact checkers” to find mistakes (“lies”) in it. (Remember the old Yes Minister joke: “You can always accuse them of errors of detail, sir. There are always some errors of detail”.)”

    ” When Romney and Ryan offer their arguments to the American people, they are, of course, at an advantage over almost any British or European politician. Contrary to what many know-nothing British observers seem to think, the message coming out of Tampa was not Tea Party extremism. It was just a reassertion of the basic values of American political culture: self-determination, individual aspiration and genuine community, as opposed to belief in the state as the fount of all social virtue. Romney caught this rather nicely in his acceptance speech, with the comment that the US was built on the idea of “a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow’s prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today’s.” Or as Marco Rubio put it in his speech, Obama is “trying ideas that people came to America to get away from”. “

  3. Bron,

    WHOSE speech was “so dangerous” to Obama Democrats? Ryan’s?

    The press had been enamored of Ryan and his budget…his intellect and his “wonkishness.” It looks as if his speech at the RNC woke the members of the media from their state of stupor. They are beginning to see the light. Now they have a clue who this man really is–a big hypocrite given to lying a lot.

  4. Ryan: I Didn’t Vote For The Defense Cuts I Voted For
    By Zack Beauchamp
    Sep 9, 2012

    Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan has gotten in hot water before for criticizing President Obama for the very same defense cuts that he voted for in 2011. When confronted with this incongruity today on Face The Nation, Ryan simply denied that he ever voted for the cuts, telling an incredulous Norah O’Donnell that he didn’t actually vote for the cuts he’s on record as voting for:

    O’DONNELL: Now you’re criticizing the President for those same defense cuts you’re voting for and called a victory.

    RYAN: No, no — I have to correct on you this, Norah. I voted for a mechanism that says the sequester will occur if we don’t cut $1.2 trillion in government. … We can get into this nomenclature; I voted for the Budget Control Act. But the Obama Administration proposed $478 billion in defense cuts. We don’t agree with that, our budget rejected that, and then on top of that is another $500 billion in defense cuts in the sequester.

    O’DONNELL: Right. A trillion dollars in defense spending, and you voted for it!

    RYAN: No, Norah. I voted for the Budget Control Act.

    O’DONNELL: That included defense spending!

    RYAN: Norah, you’re mistaken.

    O’Donnell is, in fact, not mistaken. The Budget Control Act, as passed, included both the roughly $600 billion in “sequestration” cuts that will happen if there’s no compromise on the budget by December as well as the $487 billion of military-supported cuts that will take place regardless. The fact that Ryan may have wished that the bill didn’t contain said defense cuts does not absolve him of the fact that he and 201 other Republicans voted for the bill as-passed.

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  6. Hello sir,
    Thank you for your nice posting.The press had been enamored of Ryan and his budget…his intellect and his “wonkishness.” It looks as if his speech at the RNC woke the members of the media from their state of stupor. They are beginning to see the light.

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