Republicans and Democrats should never forget what Paul Ryan said about the poor.

Rep. Paul Ryan did something that is all too rare in politics.

Paul Ryan. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.


He admitted he was wrong.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

For a long time, Ryan (R-Wisconsin) had divided Americans into two groups: "makers," working people who contribute to society, and "takers," (mostly) poorer people who depend on government benefits.

A Florida woman looks for a job at a placement office in 2014. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Here's how he put it at a fundraiser in Wisconsin in 2012:

"Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society with a safety net where you can take a risk, start a business, make a difference, succeed and be honored for being successful? Or do we go down the path the president is proposing — a social welfare state, a cradle-to-the-grave society where we have more takers than makers."

And here's how he framed it earlier, speaking to a fellow Republican congressman in 2010:

"Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes. So we’re going to a majority of takers versus makers in America and that will be tough to come back from that."

But this year, Ryan had a revelation: Most people don't take government aid because they like free stuff. They take it because they need it to survive.

A girl pays for food with an EBT card. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

According to the USDA, in 75% of all households that both received food stamps and had a member who was able to work, that person had a job in the year before or after receiving the benefit.

How did Ryan realize he was wrong? By listening to actual poor people.

A New York City man guides a cart of recyclable cans down the street. Photo by Jewel Samad/Getty Images.

Here's what he had to say in his speech. It's really, really different than the way he's framed the issue many times before (emphasis added):

"There was a time that I would talk about a difference between 'makers' and 'takers' in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized something. I realized that I was wrong. 'Takers' wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point."

It's not just poor people who benefit from government assistance. Most of us do at some point in our lives.

The thing is, we're often unaware of it, according political scientist Suzanne Mettler, whose arguments were summarized by The Washington Post in 2015. That's because the benefits that most of us receive — for things like housing and health care or through the GI Bill, if we're veterans — often come to us through lower tax bills rather than as cash handed directly to us.

If we live long enough, most of us will eventually collect Social Security or have our medical bills paid through Medicare.

There's still plenty not to love about Ryan's approach to poverty, which doesn't do much to reflect his change of heart. Yet.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

His 2014 anti-poverty plan still includes provisions that make the poorest Americans jump through hoops in order to receive benefits while wealthier Americans continue to receive tax credits for things like mortgages and college tuition "just because."

But at least where his thinking is concerned, he's starting to get it. And that's progress.

As Ryan said in his speech, "People with different ideas, they're not traitors. They're not our enemies. They're our neighbors."

It's possible to disagree with Ryan — on this or even on most things — and still believe he deserves credit for listening, grappling, and changing his tune on the poorest Americans.

You can watch Ryan's full address here. The important part starts at 9:40:

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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