Paul Ryan’s Least-Consequential Lie

I was once a teenager. I’ve also got one kid who’s 21 and another who’s 14. In other words, I have both direct personal experience and a couple of recent refresher courses in the tendency of a certain egotistical stage in human development to lead to routine lying.

It’s a natural tendency. We all have that realization at some point of hey, I don’t actually have to take the trash out. I can just say I took the trash out, and the person asking me will probably be satisfied, and I can go on playing Pokemon or reading this book or whatever.

As a parent observing those sorts of lies, it’s interesting to see the progression. At least in my experience, there’s a rapid evolution from “I’ll lie once in a while when it’s important” to “hell; I’ll just lie every time. Why not?”

I think it might be useful to view the Romney-Ryan ticket as the political equivalent of a 12- or 13-year-old who has discovered the usefulness of lying, but has yet to experience the consequences that (hopefully) instill the lesson that it’s not just morally wrong, but is a losing strategy if you go to the well too often.

I offer as evidence the following story from Runner’s World magazine: Paul Ryan Says He’s Run Sub-3:00 Marathon.

In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said he’s run a sub-3:00 marathon.

In the interview, after Ryan told Hewitt that he ran in high school, Hewitt asked if Ryan still runs. Ryan replied, “Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.” When Hewitt asked Ryan what his personal best is, Ryan replied, “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.”

Runner’s World has been unable to find any marathon results by Ryan. Requests for more information from Ryan’s Washington and Wisconsin offices, and from the Romney-Ryan campaign, have so far gone unanswered.

If Ryan has broken 3:00, he’d be the fastest marathoner to be on a national ticket. John Edwards has run 3:30; George W. Bush has run 3:44; Sarah Palin has run 3:59; and Al Gore has run 4:58.

The thing is, marathon finishing times are more or less public information. And having dug into it some more, Runner’s World now has turned up what appears to be a finishing time for Ryan from the period in question (1990, when he was 20). Ryan’s time? 4:01:25.

Now, it’s possible that the Paul D. Ryan who ran in that race is a different Paul D. Ryan than the one now running for vice president (though the race in question is one that the magazine was led to by a Ryan staffer’s response to their inquiries). It’s also possible that that time was an anomaly for the young runner, who really could, and did, post a time under 3 hours, either before or after the 4-hour time he recorded in 1990.

But as a rational grownup, I think it’s much more likely that Ryan simply lied. Or, if you want, “bullshitted”, in the sense of just throwing a truthy-sounding statement out there because it sounded good, without bothering to really think back or be intellectually rigorous about whether or not the statement was actually true.

Which is not a huge deal. I mean, clearly it doesn’t make any difference in terms of his qualifications for vice president if he ran a sub-3-hour marathon 22 years ago, and lying about it shouldn’t disqualify him.


Except that, as a parent, I feel like I’ve seen this pattern before. I know what it means. And yeah, on a certain level, it kind of does matter. Not because of the marathon time 22 years ago. But because of the pattern of routine, casual dishonesty it reveals in the Paul Ryan of today.

Update: Ryan (through a spokesperson in the campaign) comes clean (sort of). From Nicholas Thompson, writing in the New Yorker’s News Desk blog: How fast can Paul Ryan run?

I contacted the campaign this evening about the discrepancy. Ryan, through a spokesman, responded that he’d just mixed things up: “The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin – who ran Boston last year – reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

A couple of things:

1) This may be exactly what it appears: “Ha ha, yeah, you got me. That inconsequential thing was me misspeaking. No biggee.” Or it might be an example of how good Ryan is at this sort of routine lying: To instantly (and correctly) assess that as soon as this became A Thing (which it did as soon as it escaped the low-stakes, no-pressure realm of the friendly Hugh Hewitt interview), it was in his interest to defuse it as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. He needed to “get out in front” of the story, acknowledging the (obvious) truth that he did not, in fact, come anywhere near running a sub-3-hour marathon, and doing his best to frame it as a silly (but honest) mistake. In which case, it’s actually quite slick the way he incorporated the “good ribbing” Tobin gave him over dinner. And of course, if we accept the possibility that this is all artful spin, that ribbing from Tobin is just as likely to be a lie as the original claim.

2) I know this comes off as me sounding petty. But again, the framing of the original act of “misspeaking” in a way that makes me sound petty could just be part of the artful dodging on display here.

What I mean is this: Ryan, post-confession, would have us believe this was an innocent mistake. He didn’t consciously lie about his marathon time. “If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three,” he said (the report says that statement came through a campaign spokesperson, but it’s offered as a direct quote of Ryan, so presumably the spokesperson is telling us that Ryan actually said that).

But the thing is, as any number of commenters at both the New Yorker and Runner’s World pieces have pointed out, that has a hard time passing the smell test. A marathon runner would be very, very unlikely to accidentally mistake the difference between a sub-3-hour time and a 4-hour-plus time, even 22 years after the fact. The two performances are qualitatively, not just quantitatively, different. A sub-3-hour marathon is, if you’ll pardon my French, really fucking fast. It isn’t just a time you’d post as a dedicated amateur. You’d have to be a dedicated amateur who had undergone extensive painful training and (probably) who had an innate body type conducive to fast times. Ryan’s actual 4-hour marathon was an accomplishment. But it was an accomplishment that is well within the reach of many serious runners. As Thompson put it in his blog post:

A 2:55 would have put Ryan in a hundred and thirtieth place, out of the thirty-two hundred and seventy-seven men in that race. A 4:01 put him in nineteen hundred and ninetieth place. It’s the difference between racing and running.

But in the Hugh Hewitt interview, Ryan was quite specific. He didn’t simply misspeak. He went into detail: “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Even with the passage of 22 years, I don’t believe it’s possible to construe that as an innocent misstatement. It’s a knowing lie.

Politicians embellish their own credentials. They do it routinely. They put themselves in the best possible light. In that sense, what Ryan did here was nothing special.


Except that it illustrates the aforementioned pattern. Kevin Drum talked about that pattern today in Paul Ryan’s Grim Vision for America.

It’s a struggle to truly explain Paul Ryan. He seems so reasonable. Why, in his speech on Wednesday, he told his audience about all the tough choices ahead but then added, “We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak.” How could you dislike a Republican who says stuff like that?

It’s hard. And it’s hard to convince people that this is, basically, an elaborate and finely honed act. After all, we’re not used to politicians getting up on a stage and just flatly hustling us. We give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they speak in sober tones and make a point of sorrowfully acknowledging how tough things are for everyone.

Nonetheless, an elaborate act is what this is. You see, Paul Ryan prides himself on being a numbers guy, and his vision for America can best be seen in his long-term budget plan.

Drum goes on to lay out the numbers, and he’s right: When you look at what Ryan actually proposes, it just isn’t possible to square it with the language he used in his speech. The compassionate speech-making was an act. And just like casually misrepresenting himself as having been an elite marathoner in his youth, then swiftly and artfully minimizing the damage (at least for listeners who aren’t themselves runners) by painting it as an innocent mistake, it’s an act that Ryan appears to be really good at.

Later update: Here’s Drum again, on Ryan’s sub-3-hour marathon claim: Paul Ryan likes to supersize it.

Does Ryan deserve a bit of mockery for this? Sure. But if there’s anything really telling about Ryan’s character here, it’s the fact that when he misrepresents himself, he doesn’t do it in a small way. Ryan didn’t just shave five or ten minutes off his time, the way some of us might if we were bragging about an old athletic accomplishment that no one could check up on, he shaved off a full hour, giving himself an extremely respectable, elite amateur time. This doesn’t quite rank up there with Kim Jong-Il carding eleven holes-in-one on his first round of golf, or Pat Robertson leg-pressing 2,000 pounds at age 76, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Keep this in mind when Ryan talks about his tax and budget plan and promises with a straight face that it will slash the deficit, benefit the middle class, protect the social safety net, and supercharge economic growth all at once: lying is easier when you tell a big lie.

6 Responses to “Paul Ryan’s Least-Consequential Lie”

  1. knarlyknight Says:


    (Best post ever.)

  2. shcb Says:

    It seems runner’s world is lying, why would they use a twenty year’s old time when he said he ran it in high school? That could easily have been 4 years earlier.

    We have an incumbent with a failed presidency, he can’t run on his record so he has to run on tearing the other guys down, happens everytime.

  3. jbc Says:

    Nope; magazines tend not to lie about stuff like that, since editorial credibility is one of the main elements of their value proposition. And as it turns out, Ryan has confessed (sort of), at least to the 4-hour time being his actual marathon time. See the update I’m about to add to the item.

  4. dk Says:

    on that parenting and lying thing: Ryan needs to be asked what he had for dinner with his brother last night when all this ribbing was going on.

    i’m a squeamish better, but i’d put a lot down that he didn’t have dinner with his brother. that statement is all jiu jistsu deflection.

    He’s run only one marathon, so he lied to hewitt about that, inferring he runs marathans. and he’s slower than a sarah palin w several kids.

    voted most likely to brown nose by his classmates.

    i love your piece and that you have the parental patience to give the guy the benefit of doubt

  5. enkidu Says:

    Republicans can’t seem to ‘win’ a ‘debate’ with a empty chair… literally.

    What was their recent quote? …’we won’t let fact-checkers dictate our campaign’
    Reminds me of the Decider and his administration’s “you reality based people”

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    The country is just getting to know this Paul Ryan guy… verdict so far: serial liar. Classic R. Tax cuts for rich folks, destroy the New Deal, Great Society, all safety nets and bingo! All the unicorns and ponies mean way more jobs than under the Kenyan Usurper, duh!

  6. NorthernLite Says:

    Paul Ryan is a pathological liar. I’m completely convinced of this.

    Any student, woman or older American that casts a vote for him will deserve exactly what they get, should that ticket win the election.

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