Only Congressman Paul Ryan can compete with Scott Walker in the Cheap Shots medal count. The right's intellectual darling started 2011 as the new leader of the House Budget Committee and ended as a finalist for Time's Person of the Year.
You might think we would lambaste Ryan for buying that $350 bottle of pinot at a posh D.C. bistro, but hey, is it his fault he doesn't have to pay attention to prices on a menu? No, it's not the wine we object to, it's the whine: the up-is-down, black-is-white, and pay-no-attention-while-we-screw-the-poor-and-middle-class nature of his rhetoric and ideas.
As President Barack Obama described the congressman in an exchange with donors caught on mike, "this is the same guy that voted for two wars that were unpaid for, voted for the Bush tax cuts that were unpaid for, voted for the prescription drug bill that cost as much as my health care bill but wasn't paid for.... So it's not on the level."
The Thanks but No Thanks Award: In January, the Republican Boyish Wonder began his seventh term representing Wisconsin's 1st District. In the 2010 election, he captured 179,819 votes, 68.21% of the total, spending nearly $1.8 million on the race. His challenger spent less than $12,000. Ryan also catapulted to the lead in the right wing's wish-you-would-run-for-president sweepstakes, a skinny ("I maintain 6 to 8 percent body fat") alternative to rotund New Jersey governor Chris Christie. They both said no.
The Which Camera Am I Looking At Award: Ryan was tapped to deliver the GOP response to the president's State of the Union address, only to be overshadowed by self-proclaimed tea party darling Michele Bachmann, a congresswoman from Minnesota and presidential hopeful whose own response was also aired. Both said essentially the same thing: If Barack Obama is for it, then we are against it, cementing the Republican reputation as the "Party of No." As Ryan spoke, "Eddie Munster" was trending on Twitter.
The It's a "Contribution" Not a "Pay Cut" Award: On MSNBC in February, Ryan weirdly compared Wisconsin's reaction to Scott Walker's union-busting pay-cut scheme to the Egyptian struggle to end the authoritarian reign of Hosni Mubarak. Walker "is basically saying, state workers...contribute next to nothing" to their compensation packages, Ryan noted on Morning Joe. The governor wants "you public workers to pay half of what our private-sector counterparts are, and he's getting, you know, riots. It's like Cairo has moved to Madison these days."
The Please Invite Me to My Ambush Award: In April, after his radical "Path to Prosperity" budget plan provoked breathless praise from the pundits, Ryan was invited by the president to sit in the front row as Obama unveiled his own budget priorities. Looking directly at Ryan, Obama said, "There's nothing serious or courageous" about his plan. "Asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know." Afterward Ryan said he was "very disappointed in the president." Meanwhile the progressive Agenda Project targeted the Medicare voucher portion of Ryan's plan, gleefully releasing an ad depicting a Ryan look-alike pushing Grandma off a cliff.
The Son Dick Cheney Never Had Award: In May, former Vice President Dick Cheney fawned over Ryan in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, hailing his budget work and saying, "I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on." Ryan was touched by Cheney's "fatherly comment," telling Fox News "I think he was kind of joking." On May 25 the Senate rejected the Ryan plan in a 57-40 vote, just one day after Republicans lost a special election in a conservative congressional district in upstate New York. The Democrats made cuts to Medicare the primary issue in that race.
The Town Halls with Constituents Are Soooo Last Year Award: Number of free public meetings Paul Ryan held in August 2009, during the debate over Obama's health care reform: 17.
Number of free public meetings Paul Ryan held in August 2011, during the debate over the GOP's dystopian vision: 0.
The Social Security Isn't Really a Ponzi Scheme Award: In September, Ryan initially agreed with characterizations by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels that the insurance plan at the center of FDR's New Deal is akin to a criminal enterprise. Social Security fits the technical definition of a Ponzi scheme, Ryan had told GOP cheerleader Laura Ingraham. "That is how those schemes work." Later, not so much. Ryan walked back his remarks in an interview with Bloomberg News, saying it's not criminal, just bankrupt.
The R-Y-A-N Is an Anagram of AYN R. Award: Despite unprecedented blowback from faith-based groups, including from a Bible-wielding young Catholic who stalked Ryan to his SUV, the congressman chose to double-down on the Ayn Randian politics of selfishness in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in October. After blasting Obama for "sowing social unrest and class resentment," Ryan warned of a society with "a net majority of takers versus makers," and accused liberals of converting "our safety net system" into "a hammock that ends up lulling people into lives of dependency and complacency which drains them of their incentive and the will to make the most of their lives."
Over at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait's takedown of the speech is entitled "The Ideological Fantasies of Inequality Deniers." And as one commenter on ThinkProgress.org put it, "Always stunning to hear Republicans - who gave us McCarthyism, blacklisting, witch hunts, enemies lists, dirty tricks, hate radio, swiftboating, gay-bashing, militias, Fox News, and Rovean politics - blaming the left for practicing the 'politics of division.'"
The My Medicare Overhaul Is Not Dead Yet Award: As 2011 comes to a close, Ryan paired up with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon to introduce a bill that would change Medicare's single-payer model to a system of private insurance with public options. Initial reaction from both sides is mixed - the White House is against it - and media consensus favors the idea that this is meant to help presidential sad-sack Mitt Romney, who had embraced Ryan's plan to end Medicare as we know it, and would face a brutal assault in the general election from seniors, all of whom vote. Democrats, always the nice guys.