Monday, December 19, 2011

Republicans credit Paul Ryan with George Watts' phrase, 'The right to rise,' then distort its meaning

Paul Ryan, the media darling, is getting a lot of mileage out of a simple phrase he used in a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Ocrober: "All Americans have the right to rise."

Republicans have begun to trumpet the phrase, since Jeb Bush, in an op ed in the Wall Street Journal, credited Ryan as the author, expanded on and twisted the idea. Bush called his piece "Capitalism and the right to rise," and said:
Congressman Paul Ryan recently coined a smart phrase to describe the core concept of economic freedom: "The right to rise."  
Think about it. We talk about the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to assembly. The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect. But we do.
We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.
First off, Ryan didn't coin the phrase, although no one seems to be disputing the claim that he did.

I knew I'd heard it before; it had a familiar ring. Was it Jesse Jackson who said it? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?

The answer was much closer to home. Milwaukee's George Watts, a moderate Republican businessman who supported the civil rights movement, titled his autobiography, "Insurrection in Milwaukee: The Right to Rise." Watts died in 2005.

Watts, who ran unsuccessfully for Milwaukee mayor in 2000, was talking about the rights of minorities to rise from poverty and discrimination and take their rightful places in society.

Ryan, in fact, in his speech, said:

... let's lower the hurdles to upward mobiity ...Throughout human history, the American idea has done more to help the poor than any other economic system ever designed... Here in America, unlike most places on earth, all citizens have the right to rise.
Jeb Bush managed to turn that into a call for an end to regulation, so that millionaires and corporations can rise even higher.
George Watts might be pleased that he's being quoted, although he's probably prefer to have it attributed. But he would undoubtedly be appalled by the way "the right to rise" is being twisted as an argument to deregulate those at the top, when he was trying to help those at the bottom.

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