Thornton Holding Court.jpg

Thornton Hall

The Revolution Will Be Kuhnian.

Paul Ryan is the Clarence Thomas of Poverty

Probably the fiercest critic of affirmative action on the Supreme Court is Clarence Thomas. Clarence Thomas is, of course, black. Doesn't he believe racial discrimination hurts black people? Doesn't he think that racial discrimination would keep black people out of positions of power if the Federal Government let people get away with it?

The key to understanding Clarence Thomas is to remember two things:

  1. He is most concerned (like all humans) about people he identifies with, and
  2. He believes that the people who succeed in this world are simply better people.

So Clarence Thomas is a superior human who got into Yale Law School. Fine. I'm sure most people at Yale Law School imagine themselves to be naturally superior to their fellow man. What's the problem? The problem is that because Affirmative Action exists, he is not recognized as a superior human being, despite the name "Yale" on his degree:

Thomas graduated from Yale Law School, and in 2007 he attacked his alma mater's affirmative action policies in his memoir and in an interview with ABC News. Thomas argued that what he called the stigmatizing effects of affirmative action put him at a huge disadvantage when he was trying to find work as a lawyer.

Thomas said he went on interviews with one "high-priced lawyer" after another who didn't take him seriously because they thought he got special treatment.

"Many asked pointed questions, unsubtly suggesting they doubted I was as smart as my grades indicated," Thomas told ABC News.

Affirmative action also made him miserable while he was actually attending the law school, Thomas writes in his book, according to the Yale Daily News.

“At least southerners were up front about their bigotry: You knew exactly where they were coming from,” he says in the book. “Not so the paternalistic big-city whites who offered you a helping hand so long as you were careful to agree with them, but slapped you down if you started acting as if you didn’t know your place.”

Just Like Paul Ryan, the successful poor kid from Janesville, Wisconsin.

Now that Ryan is closer than ever to enacting his Ayn Rand inspired plans to slash government benefits to the poor, he's getting a lot of attention. The standard liberal take is that Ryan says he cares about poverty, but he's really just a lying asshole.

But didn't Paul Ryan say he really was driven by his Catholic faith to help the poor?

The key to understanding Paul Ryan? The same two things as Clarence Thomas:

  1. He is most concerned (like all humans) about people he identifies with, and
  2. He believes that the people who succeed in this world are simply better people.

Paul Ryan is not quite the success Clarence Thomas is, but he thinks he's pretty special. His dad died young, but Ryan saved up his money and was able to go to college. Now he's the Speaker of the House. How did he do it? As they said at the Republican National Convention that nominated him for Vice President: I built this. Paul Ryan is a rags to riches pulled up from his own bootstraps American Success Story.

But there's a voice in the back of Ryan's head telling him that he's a fraud. That voice sounds a lot like Charlie Pierce. 

Charlie Pierce is now a liberal blogger at Esquire Magazine and frequent guest on NPR's "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." Back in the day, however, Charlie was a sportswriter in Boston. He is concerned that Paul Ryan Doesn't Understand How Insurance Works, especially Social Security:

Let's say that, in 1986, a 16-year-old lad loses his father to a sudden heart attack. Despite the fact that the family's construction firm is relatively prosperous due to its generous share of government contracts, the family's finances are considerably straitened. For the next two years, the young man and his mother receive Social Security survivor's benefits. Of course, these came from millions of people who had Social Security withheld from their paychecks and whose fathers did not die young due to a sudden heart attack. One of them was, say, a 32-year-old sportswriter for the Boston Herald, who had Social Security withheld from what he was paid to watch the Red Sox blow the '86 World Series, and whose father was still alive, but slipping fast into Alzheimer's. Some of his money went to make sure Paul Ryan could complete high school and go on the college and get the BA in economics that made him the smartest man in the world.

Got it now?

Also, you're welcome, rube.

Just like Clarence Thomas, Paul Ryan thinks he would have succeeded no matter what because he's, you know, really smart. The problem is that jerks like Charlie Pierce won't give him the credit that he deserves.

And what's worse, thinks Paul, is all the little poor kids who are smart enough to succeed if only they knew that Paul Ryan showed them they can do it. Those poor little kids on SNAP don't get the empowerment that comes from knowing that the Speaker of the House rose from poverty thanks to his own smarts. They believe, unfortunately, that SNAP keeps them alive by allowing them to eat food. The poor souls! Doomed to poverty by having enough to eat. It's really sad. The "hammock of dependency" Paul calls it (in between made up stories). And a good Catholic should do something about it.

And that is why Paul Ryan believes he's being the best Catholic he can be, really, truly helping the poor, by literally taking the food out of their children's hungry mouths.

Basic Insight: Understanding Human Society Is Maladaptive

How Our Politics Could Change