FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
Paul Ryan’s Horrible Janesville ‘Lie’: Accurately Quoting the President and Recounting Actual Events
Several of the statements made in Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s RNC address Wednesday night have triggered strong reactions from the Obama campaign and its surrogates throughout the media. Shortly after Ryan’s speech, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina sent out an email to supporters declaring “Paul Ryan’s speech in Tampa was factually challenged” and “blatantly false,” and claiming three separate times in one sentence that “[Ryan] lied.”
One of the biggest points of contention is Ryan’s anecdote about a GM plant in his hometown of
Jaynestown Janesville, Wisconsin, which closed just months after being visited by then-candidate Barack Obama. Messina responded to the story by accusing Ryan of “dishonestly attack[ing] Barack Obama for the closing of a GM plant in his hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin — a plant that closed in December 2008 under George W. Bush,” while some media “fact-checkers” have written their own context into Ryan’s remarks in order to claim them false, with other journalists evidently choosing to ignore the black-and-white transcript in favor of asking for creative interpretations – or coming up with their own – of Ryan’s very clear remarks.
Let’s look at exactly what Obama said, what Ryan said, and then at what happened.
1. On February 13, 2008, candidate Obama (technically “Senator” Obama, but let’s face it – by this time he’d checked out of the job he was being paid to do, in favor of campaigning for the promotion he eventually received) gave a speech at the General Motors plant in Janesville, WI. Among his 4,268 words were the following two paragraphs:
I believe that if our government is there to support you, and give you the assistance you need to re-tool and make this transition, that this plant will be here for another hundred years.
We need to maintain our competitive edge in a global by ensuring that plants like this one stay open for another hundred years, and shuttered factories re-open as new industries that promise new jobs. And we need to put more Americans to work doing jobs that need to be done right here in America.
2. Ryan’s description of that visit, and the following closure, was as follows:
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.
As you can see from the bolded portions of Obama’s quote above, Ryan accurately characterized what the then-candidate, now-President said on the site of the former GM plant. It’s simply not possible to claim that Ryan mischaracterized Obama’s words when, laid out in black and white, they are identical.
Further, the second paragraph of Obama’s quote shows that he claimed, not once but twice, that his economic plan could keep “this plant” and “plants like this one” either “here” or “open” for “another hundred years.” Again, Ryan accurately quoted Obama’s own words, as can be seen in black and white above.
3. The Janesville plant, which had been the oldest in the U.S. (opened in 1919), closed early in 2009. In June 2008, four months after Obama’s visit and “hundred years” speech, General Motors announced that the plant would be closing the following May, and the Janesville Gazette notes that the plant’s last day in operation was April 23, 2009.
Just before the end of 2008, when Obama was firmly ensconced in the very important (and not at all pretentiously made-up) Office of the President-Elect, approximately 1,200 workers were laid off during pre-closure cutbacks. Though Obama and his administration appear to be a curse on businesses they visit or support, many of which seem to go out of business shortly after, blame for the closure itself doesn’t lay at Obama’s feet – and, as could not be more clear from the transcript above, Ryan did not say that it did.
What Ryan did say – accurately – is that the Janesville plant is “locked up and empty to this day,” and that similar situations are being faced “in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.” Ryan’s anecdote, which literally hits close to home with the Vice Presidential nominee, serves as a bookend to Obama’s tenure in office, which began with closures like this and which, despite Obama’s statements and promises, has utterly failed to reverse that trend. During that February 2008 speech, Obama claimed his policies would not only help tenured factories like that one to “stay open for another hundred years,” but that they would result in “shuttered factories re-open[ing] as new industries that promise new jobs.” In October 2008, following the announcement that the Janesville plant was closing even earlier than anticipated, Obama reiterated the latter promise, saying, “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.” As the still-shuttered Janesville plant attests, that pledge was not followed through on.
The other bookend is this administration’s record on economics and employment, which are worse at the end of Obama’s term than they were before. Add to that the prominent place that the supposed “success” of the GM bailout has been afforded in Obama’s reelection campaign, and Paul Ryan’s Janesville anecdote, supplemented by Obama’s own words, becomes not just an accurate story, but an effective one.