U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s connection to Oklahoma has been reported by the corporate media, but reports have glossed over one indirect but important historical tie.
Ryan, who is from Wisconsin, has been selected by presidential candidate Mitt Romney to run as vice president on the Republican ticket this year, a decision that puts the Congressman’s extremist budget proposals, including the remaking of the federal Medicare program, squarely in the middle of the race. This has delighted both Tea-Party activists, who share Ryan’s views, and some Democrats, who argue Ryan is too controversial to appeal to centrist voters.
Ryan’s connection to our state is this: He’s married to the former Janna Little, who’s from Madill, and they apparently often travel to the state to visit family. There’s more. U.S. Rep. Dan Boren is Janna’s cousin. His late mother, once married to his father, University of Oklahoma President David Boren, was also a member of the Little family in Madill. Democrat Dan Boren, as we know, declined to run for reelection this year.
Admittedly, none of this is really that important on some level. Ryan, for example, has said he’s gone “noodling” here in the state. Great. But we all know the Republican ticket will win handily in Oklahoma no matter how many catfish Ryan has pulled out of the hole, right? Who cares?
But one small detail about Janna’s family, mentioned in two short paragraphs in a NewsOK.com article, did strike me as interesting. Janna’s grandfather, Reuel W. Little, helped formed a political party-the American Party-in Oklahoma that supported George Wallace for president in 1968. Little when on to run for governor in Oklahoma in 1970 as an American Party candidate, but was easily defeated. Wallace was a longtime governor of Alabama.
What the story doesn’t mention is that at the time of his presidential bid Wallace was a controversial racist and segregationist and his avid followers obviously had to not only condone but also share his narrow world view. Although Wallace supposedly repudiated his racist views later in life, history has essentially not been kind to him.
Why this fact about Wallace was left out of the NewsOK.com story is anyone’s guess, but it does say something about the Little family. Have the family members’ views about race progressed beyond Reuel Little’s support for a candidate who once argued “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”? I think that’s a fair question given the family’s direct connection now to a vice presidential candidate, who also holds what many consider to be radical views.
Of course, any connection between Ryan and Reuel Little/George Wallace (or Dan/David Boren and Reuel Little/George Wallace, for that matter) can only be made in an abstract, philosophical manner, and there are great differences. Wallace was a Democrat and an independent, for example, not a Republican implementing the standard GOP “Southern Strategy.”
Yet Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program that would dramatically increase health care costs for senior citizens and his proposals to drastically cut social safety net programs, such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would divide people as much as Wallace’s segregation plans. The fact that his plan would amount to the largest shift of wealth from the poor and middle class to the richest people in country through tax cuts for the wealthy is another example of dividing people.
The Republican leadership will want us to view Ryan as a handsome, youthful technocrat who simply wants to cut government spending, but his proposals are just as radical as Wallace’s politics and, by extension, the views of his wife’s late grandfather.