Reading Paul Ryan’s Mind


The political media should focus on the impact of Paul Ryan’s policies, not try to read his mind.

Jonathan Chait recently had a great look at Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s new interest in the plight of America’s poor. The silly thing here for Chait is that while this new interest is constantly depicted as being “quiet” or obviously being the product of a true heartfelt conversation, Paul Ryan’s new poverty focus doesn’t seem very low key because accounts of it keep being released to the press:

“Ryan’s rebranding effort — sorry, his heartfelt interest — is inevitably described as “quiet.” Ryan “has spent the past year quietly touring impoverished communities across the country,” reports Coppins. A similar reported piece in National Review last June detailed “Ryan’s quiet pitch to the poor.” As did a Washington Post story last month(“Ryan … has been quietly visiting inner-city neighborhoods”). Coppin’s story quotes a skeptic, but adopts an almost perfect credulous tone.

It might seem odd that Ryan’s determination to keep his love of the poor quiet would nevertheless leak out in the media, over and over again. “Ryan has deliberately left the cameras behind during his excursions to poor neighborhoods this year in places like Indiana and New Jersey,” reports Coppins, “but the stories of his interactions with the poor somehow find a way of leaking into public view.” Somehow. The stories find a way. Because stories, far from being inanimate human creations, as you might think, actually have minds of their own and a willpower so fierce they can defy even the most secrecy-minded spinmeister.”

The big point I would make here is that reporters and the public at large should always remember that trying to get into a politician’s head is largely impossible. For example, it’s totally possible that this new focus on poverty is just a media focused campaign to make Ryan look more serious and moderate to national journalists as part of a rebranding effort for the 2016 presidential campaign. It’s also totally possible that Paul Ryan really has changed his mind and wants a bigger focus on the issue of poverty from the Republican Party. It’s even possible that both these things are true at the same time, or that something else entirely is going on. There really is no way to tell for sure.

What we can tell for sure is that as of right now Paul Ryan hasn’t repudiated his previous policy positions of large cuts in government programs for the poor to help fund large tax cuts for the wealthy. Perhaps that will change in the future, but until then we can make reasonable judgments about the impact Paul Ryan’s policies would have that don’t require us to read his mind or journey into the depths of his soul. Journalists would do well to stick to the impact of the policies, not attempt to be mind-readers.

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AP Photo by J. Scott Applewhite

About John K. Anderson

John Anderson is a former student of political science and political professional who worked on a variety of campaigns in the Midwest and on the East Coast. He currently lives in Minneapolis where everyone is friendly and there are lots of lakes. He blogs at longwalkdownlyndale


  1. Gilbert O'Sughrue says:

    Good article John. The only thing I would change is to make your point earlier in the piece. There are so many people out there who read what they want into the headline and don’t read the whole article.
    Paul Ryan is still a dick until he changes his policies for the greater good. Ok, I put it last too but only 3 lines down 🙂

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