Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan got more publicity than he expected when he recently showed up at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio for a photo-op. Critics pounced on a statement by St. Vincent DePaul Society President Brian Antal, who claimed, “The photo-op they did wasn’t even accurate. He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall.” Then video surfaced indicating that Ryan did do something, even if it was to wash some dishes that were already clean.
The notion of a Republican candidate washing clean dishes was an irresistible metaphor for many on the Left. “Ryan Stunt Exposes Fraudulence of GOP Charity Rhetoric,” blared the headline of a piece by The Nation’s Ben Adler. His essay doesn’t come anywhere close to establishing the validity of that claim, of course. It ends with this gem:
Personal charitable contributions or volunteerism are no substitute for the far greater sums that Romney and Ryan would steal from the poor and give to the rich through cuts to taxes and spending. If Ryan had actually spent a few minutes cleaning pots and pans at a soup kitchen, it would be no compensation for his proposal to starve families by cutting funding for food stamps. But it’s worth noting that even Ryan’s supposed commitment to private charity is just dishonest window dressing.
In other words, Ryan’s private charitable actions are irrelevant, but while we’re on the topic, they’re also a fraud. I know because I saw a picture.
The logic here is so feeble that it isn’t really worth refuting. Adler doesn’t have any more reason to think Ryan’s commitment to charity is a fraud than I have to think Barack Obama is clinically depressed because he fakes a smile when people take his picture. When the Left gets so worked up about something so incredibly trivial, though, it’s worth asking what’s really bothering them.
My theory is that those on the Left don’t like to see Republicans washing clean dishes because pointless busywork has long been a staple of Democratic policy. If you doubt that claim, consider the $862 billion stimulus package. Ask yourself: what was the point of the stimulus package? In the Democrats’ own rhetoric, the point was “to get America moving again” or to “put people to work.” You have to dig pretty deep in the stimulus bill to find any concrete goals beyond getting something, anything to happen. It doesn’t particularly matter where we are going or whether that work needs to be done, as long as there’s a big flurry of activity. Anyone want to wash some clean dishes?
For example, the stimulus package provided $2 million for a Nevada firehouse that the state can’t afford to staff. One Texas county spent $4 million to weatherize just 47 homes – a whopping $78,000 per house. An aerospace company received $15 million to monitor water quality in a Ventura County creek it has already been fined for polluting. A wealthy Indian casino got $54 million. $20 million was spent on signs indicating that the stimulus program was “putting people back to work.” Evidently a job is a job, even if it’s a job putting up signs indicating that you have a job.
Cynics will argue that in any program of this size, there is inevitably going to be some waste. But that’s missing the point. When you’ve defined your goal as “putting people back to work,” there’s no such thing as waste. It doesn’t matter if you’re building a fire station that isn’t going to be used, working on a scientific study that nobody is going to read or, for that matter, washing dishes that don’t need to be washed. The important thing is that you’re doing something. You’ve got a job! And with a job comes income, and with income comes spending, and spending helps the economy. Problem solved! This is Keynesian economics in a nutshell.
Of course, when the benefits of busywork prove illusory and the program is a complete failure even by your own standards, you’ve got to do some back-tracking, claiming that things would have been even worse if you hadn’t acted so decisively to put people back to work. Even objective failure can’t dim the faith of a fanatic Keynesian.
The real problem Democrats have with Paul Ryan’s publicity stunt wasn’t that he was washing clean dishes – it was that he was washing clean dishes without getting millions of dollars in other people’s money to do it. Put up a sign in front of that soup kitchen touting the “American Reinvestment and Recovery Act” and give Ryan a hefty check and voila! He’s another Keynesian economics success story.