This time, it was about the athletic prowess in his distant past:
It turns out Paul Ryan has not run a marathon in less than three hours—or even less than four hours.In the annals of human abuses of the truth, most people would probably rate this rather low, right down there with tales of the bombshell girlfriend in band camp and the time Jon Bon Jovi saw you singing in a hotel bar and said he admired your voice.
A spokesman confirmed late Friday that the Republican vice presidential candidate has run one marathon. That was the 1990 Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, where Ryan, then 20, is listed as having finished in 4 hours, 1 minute, and 25 seconds.
Ryan had said in a radio interview last week that his personal best was "Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something."
However, there is something both more infuriating and more sinister about this one than is apparent at first blush.
For one thing, there is something disturbing about people who lie when they don't need to. Dana Houle captured the essential part of the Hugh Hewitt interview where the fiction of Paul Ryan, Marathon Great was established:
And for those who might still believe that Ryan’s tongue simply slipped, look again at what he said:Ryan could have simply said: "Yeah, Hugh, I still run. I even ran a marathon in college once. Almost broke four hours! But, then I had a back problem, and..."
H. H.: Are you still running?
P. R.: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or [less].
H. H.: But you did run marathons at some point?
P. R.: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
H. H.: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
P. R.: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
H. H.: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
P. R.: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
A four-hour marathon, in itself, is a pretty impressive achievement for anyone. Hell, completing a marathon is a damned impressive achievement.
But Ryan couldn't live with a modestly impressive past. Perhaps that conflicted with his own goal of being Republican Superman, or something. So he invented a better running history, confident that no one would be able to verify one way or another that he was fabricating his past. Not only did he wildly exaggerate his performance, but, as Houle astutely noted, he also did not correct Hewitt's assertion that he had run multiple marathons.
And this is not a small fib. This is saying that your 1050 on the SAT in high school was really a 1500. When you knock an hour-plus off your marathon time, you are going from an above-average effort to being in the top 1 percent (a familiar setting for Ryan and his allies, of course). Ryan, one must assume, figured he could get away with such a whopper, because who would know what time he ran in a marathon 22 years earlier?
His problem was that he didn't understand the subject he was lying about. Completing a marathon is a big deal, and completing one in under three hours is a damned big deal. Ergo, records are kept (you want to know my personal best in the 5K? It's online, albeit fairly unimpressive).
Thus, it required very little effort for Runners' World to confirm that Ryan was, indeed, full of shit. And, once cornered, Ryan had to fess up.
But he did it in the most weasel-esque fashion possible—claiming "it was more than 20 years ago." As if running a marathon was such a common event that the salient details would easily slide from our memory. Especially when we are talking about a guy that Republicans incessantly try to convince us is some kind of a numbers guru: Wile E. Coyote with a congressional pin.
The average American knows what is going on here. Every damned one of us went to a high school reunion, and got cornered by "that guy." "That guy" claimed he dated a stream of supermodels in college, but you knew he never left his dorm room. "That guy" claimed he was the final guy cut from the Milwaukee Bucks back in '96, but you knew that he didn't even start in high school.
The thing about "that guy": he's sad. One of the true icons of Gen X television, Al Bundy, serves as an instructive example here. Why does Al Bundy talk incessantly about his four touchdowns in one game at Polk High? Because what else does he have? "That guy" has to cling to those stories filled with past glories (real or imagined) because that's all he has got.
But ... you see ... Paul Ryan shouldn't be "that guy." He has financial wealth, political power, all the accoutrements that the average Joe who exaggerates his past doesn't. "That guy" may not have a right to lie about his past, but at least he has a reason. What is Paul Ryan's reason?
In his landmark nonfiction work Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon observed that everyone lies, but they lie for different reasons. Some people lie because they have to. Some people lie because they think they have to. And some people lie just for the hell of it. This particular incident reveals a huge character flaw in Paul Ryan, for it is evident that he falls in this latter category.
As a result, this incident can not be examined in a vacuum. If this convention week has proven anything to us, it is that Paul Ryan is willing to exaggerate, and completely fabricate, to suit his chosen narratives (the lame lamentations of Ben Smith to the contrary). One wonders if the press, who leapt all over a certain Democratic presidential candidate for far less over a decade ago, will conclude that this is a pattern, and not a series of isolated events.