Paul Ryan: More of the Same


When the New York Times reported that Governor Romney was facing pressure from the “Right” to name Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate, the flagship newspaper of the U.S. establishment meant the ersatz Right of neoconservatives, Rupert Murdoch, and Rockefeller Republicans.  The “conservatives” identified as pushing for Ryan included Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard, Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, and Newt Gingrich.

Romney’s selection of Ryan adds no ideological balance to the ticket.  Like Romney, Ryan is an establishment figure.  He was a protégé of Jack Kemp in the 1990s.  (By this time, Kemp’s early libertarian and populist leanings had been eclipsed by his affinity for statists and plutocrats.)

During the Bush Jr. years, Ryan was a consistent supporter of big government and crony capitalism, voting for No Child Left Behind, the Iraq War, Medicare Part D, raising the national debt ceiling, and the Wall Street bailout.  Reinforcing Romney’s reputation as an out-of-touch elitist, Congressman Ryan is most famous as a supposed “budget cutter” who urges austerity for the poor and continuation of the privileged status quo for the wealthy and well-connected.

In contrast to the enthusiasm displayed by NYT-style “conservatives,” conservative elder statesman Richard Viguerie describes Ryan as “a nice guy” but “not Tea Party.”  Viguerie adds, “He’s part of the Washington crowd. . . . His proposal doesn’t balance the budget for 28 years.”

It is unfortunate that Governor Romney has not moved beyond his pragmatic, establishment base in choosing a running mate.  Someone like Senator Rand Paul or Senator Jim DeMint would have been a more sensible and popular choice.


  1. I find it highly ironic that anyone would claim Romney is “out of touch” while also writing that “someone like Senator Rand Paul or Senator Jim DeMint would have been a more sensible and popular choice.” As demonstrated by your own rhetoric of marginalization when talking about “libertarian and populist leanings,” choosing either of Paul or DeMint would have diminished any chance for electoral success, and hence would not be sensible or popular.

    But the truth is that all of this “insider/outsider” talk is just about promotion of our own preferred way of thinking. You make that clear when, after denigrating Ryan and Kemp as “establishment figures” for actually rising to a prominent place, you cite Richard Viguerie as a “conservative elder statesman.” But if he’s an elder, then doesn’t he just represent “more of the same?” Or does it just depend on what he’s saying? Instead of attacking people as being part of the establishment, as you do, we should follow the more tacit argument you make of actually paying attention to the substance of people’s arguments.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I don’t know if DeMint supported the individual mandate or not. I do know that Romney is the political father of the individual mandate and that Ryan’s backer Gingrich supported even earlier.

    From my perspective, Ryan has all of Ayn Rand’s vices and none of her virtues. Regardless of his background, Ryan is not a libertarian today. He’s a big government man. It’s not just federal bailouts and domestic programs. You can’t simultaneously call for the U.S. to be the leader of the world and be a supporter of small government. See Justin Raimondo:

    There were drawbacks to all of the finalists on Romney’s VP list. I agree that Rand Paul and Jim DeMint aren’t perfect, either. I disagree that they would have diminished Romney’s chances of winning. Unlike Paul and DeMint, Ryan had no national grassroots constituency, but was rather a favorite of the New York corporate/Washington government axis that already rules the roost. Almost all pre-selection enthusiasm for Ryan in the hinterland was drummed up by Fox News through selective packaging. I guess that’s also true for much of the post-selection enthusiasm.

    I don’t denigrate Kemp and Ryan as establishment figures for rising to places of prominence. Ron Paul has been prominent for years. Now his son is prominent. There have been scores of prominent politicians over the past few decades that have not been establishment figures. I criticize Kemp and Ryan for posing as populists when they are not. It’s demagoguery that I object to, not prominence. You don’t automatically become a member of the establishment, or power elite, just because you hold high office. It’s a choice a politician makes.

    Finally, “more of the same” has to do with policy positions and political affiliations, not age. Just because Viguerie is old and has been a leader of the conservative movement since the 1970s does not mean he’s “more of the same” in Washington. Why? Because his views have never been dominant in Washington. Ryan is relatively young but he doesn’t hold any views on the big topics of the day that are outside the established consensus of those with power.

  3. DeMint praised Romneycare, which contains a mandate. said it would be good for the entire nation, and signed a letter in 2007 to President Bush saying he wanted policies that would “ensure that all Americans would have affordable, quality, private health coverage, while protecting current government programs. We believe the health care system cannot be fixed without providing solutions for everyone. Otherwise, the costs of those without insurance will continue to be shifted to those who do have coverage.” Not that “would have coverage,” not “access to coverage.”

  4. Jeff Taylor writes : “Ryan has all of Ayn Rand’s vices and none of her virtues.”

    Which makes me in turn wonder why he promoted Rand, other than her selfishness is a virtue.

    The protaganists in Atlas Shrugged would detest Paul Ryan seeing him as one of the parasites.

  5. Jeff- Much of your what you say about Ryan is arguable, but other things that you say are either flat out false or a result of a tendency to view anybody who’s been in power for very long as corrupted.

    First, the Ayn Rand thing is just silly and a cheap shot. That Ryan was interested in Rand’s work and that she influenced his thinking about the morality of statism is undeniable, since he has said as such. That he also repudiates her philosophy should be just as clear, since he has also said he thinks of himself as more of a Thomist than a Randian, and since he has promoted the Catholic idea of subsidiarity. But of course, since the anti-Ryan talking point handed by ukase to the press from Obama is that Ryan’s budget ideas are “social darwinism,” we’ll get to hear about how much Ayn Rand from everbody by Paul Ryan. His interest in her, and the influence her thinking had on him, is clearly limited to his opposition to statism. And besides, who didn’t find controversial thinkers interesting at some point? Obama has noted that he flirted with Marx, and he has associated himself with the likes of critical race theorists and Bill Ayers. Yet it would be unfair to call him a Marxist, or to say that his policies bear the imprint of critical race theory. He is merely a doctrinaire liberal, and Paul Ryan is merely another conservative who read Ayn Rand and found some of her arguments illuminating.

    I won’t say that Ryan is a libertarian, since he’s clearly not- and I think that’s a good thing. The “radical” policies he has proposed are aimed at shoring up the welfare state, slowing growth so that the safety-net we’ve already paid into will still be available for younger Americans. Whatever you think of the welfare state, we can all, along with Ryan, agree that it is now too large and growing at a rate that is unsustainable. The question is, do you scrap the entire thing, immediately, or do you retard its growth in order to provide a more stable situation from which to make decisions about decreasing its size later? And isn’t it more reasonable- more conservative- to reform entitlements than to do away with them entirely? This is why I would call Ryan a conservative, rather than a libertarian. His policies are prudent, they seek a limited government, and they are not based on libertarian abstractions or politically impossible government action. What’s more, if Ryan is a “big government” guy, then he isn’t much of an objectivist, now is he?

    Besides the stuff about Rand, the assertion that “almost all pre-selection enthusiasm for Ryan in the hinterland was drummed up by Fox News through selective packaging” is perhaps the silliest thing you wrote. Among those of us who follow policy or who have been involved in making policy, Ryan has been a big deal since he first introduced his “Roadmap” in 2008. Conservative and libertarian magazines have been writing about him extensively since then because he was (and is) one of the only elected politicians who have been willing to offer politically difficult plans to reform entitlements. One of the most common comments about Ryan is that he is, in that way, “refreshing” because almost none of what he is proposing can be called demagogic. He talks about specific policy, rather than being a bomb thrower obsessed with the Republican talking points. Ironically, you named two of the biggest bomb throwers in the Senate, as DeMint and Paul are always good for snappy soundbite, but rarely talk much about their positive proposals. That doesn’t mean DeMint and Paul can’t do some good, and haven’t done some good in the Senate, but they are nowhere near as serious about policy as Paul Ryan- and they’d probably tell you that themselves.

    Ryan’s seriousness gained him a large degree of notoriety, not recent touting by Fox News or running around the country raising money for preferred candidates (which is helpful, for sure) like DeMint or Paul. It was also his seriousness that allowed him to become the Chairman of the Budget Committe, thus becoming part of “the establishment” that you so deride. That is why I find it ridiculous to claim, as you do, that Ryan is somehow “more of the same” at a time when it seems all we have are politicians who want to talk about someone’s tax returns, “putting y’all back in chains,” or whether someone was born in Kenya because their name sounds funny. Paul Ryan is one of the only guys who has been willing to think seriously about our fiscal problems, and then offer a serious proposal to fix them. So those of us who do prefer small to large, who would like to see something done about out of control growth of government which has eroded our communities, would do well to get behind one of the only people who has offered solutions and who now is in a position to do put those solutions into use.

    As for Viguerie, and what it means to be “establishment” or not, you seem to be implying that the main criteria for being “outside the establishment” (as if that is a good thing per se) is simply that one’s “views have never been dominant in Washington.” But that also means that one’s views are not influential, that they never have a chance to become reality. I would argue that’s actually a very bad thing, and that it depends on an inability to articulate what you’re saying in a way that can be persuasive to anyone but those who already are given to agreeing with you. In Paul Ryan’s case, his reforms were very much outside the mainstream when he first offered them in 2008. In fact, I was in a room with him when he pitched his “Roadmap” to the conservative caucus of House members, and when he told them that he believed we were headed off a fiscal cliff and that he had an idea of how to prevent that. He also said that joining him would open people up to a lot of criticism, so nobody should sign on without deep study of what he was proposing. That Ryan would call attention to any downside to his own work should already tell you that he isn’t just “more of the same.” I was certainly impressed, and (unlike anyone who thinks “almost all pre-selection enthusiasm for Ryan in the hinterland was drummed up by Fox News through selective packaging”) have been paying attention to him ever since. So, that his ideas took him to the Chairmanship of the Budget Committee, and then to a nomination for the VP, is a testament to his tireless argumentation and his adroit articulation of the crisis brought on by unimpeded growth of government, and one way it might be stopped.

  6. Corey, I didn’t mean for my comment reference to Ayn Rand to be a cheap shot. My original piece did not mention Rand. I was responding to a previous comment. I don’t say Ryan is a Randian today. I do wonder, though, why he distanced himself from her if it’s true that he continued to speak highly of her writings and recommend her books to his staff after being elected to Congress. Maybe he is more of a Thomist. I don’t get a distinctly Catholic or Christian vibe from him, but perhaps it’s there deep down. I don’t know. I do think he had a faulty foundation by being a Rand enthusiast in the first place. There are far better sources for anti-statism and pro-liberty. I see residual objectivism in his supposed “rugged individualism,” although as a typical politician he’s willing to make exceptions for Wall Street giants who are somehow “too big to fail” in a free market. I see Randian influence in his glorification of big business, which dovetails well with the Kemp-AEI-neocon-Fox News mainstream. He lacks Rand’s skepticism of war and her outsider status. Hence, my line about him having all of her vices and none of her virtues.

    I don’t see the holding of power as inevitably leading to corruption, but obviously that’s the direction that the stream flows. There are exceptions. To take a historical example: Hiram Johnson held power as governor of California and then a U.S. senator for decade after decade, from the 1910s to the 1940s. Yes, he made little compromises here and there, but, on balance, he was not corrupted. He remained true to his ideals as he swam against the current. I can think of dozens of examples in Congress over the years. Paul Ryan would not be one who comes to mind.

    Ron Paul is a contemporary example. Yes, he’s been “ineffective” in getting things done, including getting a committee chairmanship, but that’s because his basic views have clashed with those who have held power in the House since the 1970s. He’s served a constructive role by being a nay-sayer. You dismiss such figures as the Pauls and DeMint as grandstanders who aren’t “serious about policy,” but I’d argue that policy wonks like Ryan are the ones who aren’t serious. They’re playing a role in a charade and they know they’re playing a role. It brings them a little more power, fame, and perhaps fortune, but it’s not serious.

    Ryan’s budget plan was never a serious attempt to restore our fiscal house. Not when it didn’t touch military spending or the devaluation of our currency. Not when Ryan himself continually voted to raise the debt ceiling. Not when his budget was promising to balance the books over DECADES. That’s precisely the same old ruse played by sides of the aisle. Promising to set things right . . . far down the road. It’s all theoretical and those who propose them understand that future politicians cannot be bound by budgets passed years or decades earlier. Maybe in Ryan’s case it was an honest effort to cut spending by addressing “entitlements”–if so, I give him credit for that–but it was terribly naive, at best.

    You have a point when you say not all pre-selection enthusiasm for Ryan was a product of the Fox propaganda machine. That’s an overstatement. But I think it is accurate to say, as I did, that almost all of the grassroots enthusiasm was a product of Foxspeak. Others, and perhaps you’re in this category, were enthused not because of Fox but because of what they’d heard from other inside-the-Beltway pseudo-conservatives. I just read a mainstream media report about Ryan-as-intellectual-star of conservatives. Who did it cite as his influences and promoters? The American Enterprise Institute, Bill Kristol, and George Will. Not exactly the storm-the-barricades crowd. If AEI, Kristol, and Will don’t represent the DC GOP establishment, who does?

    We’re not going to agree on Ryan because our perspectives are too different. You see Ryan as intelligent, knowledgeable, and perceptive, which is why he was elevated to chair the budget committee and later chosen to be on the ticket. Ryan may be smart, well-read, and savvy, as well as relatively young and handsome, but none of these traits mean he’s a good choice for vice president. Some of our worst presidents, including Wilson, Nixon, and Clinton, have been smart men. I’m interested in accurate worldviews, praiseworthy institutional affiliations, and beneficial policy commitments, not the level of freshness or intelligence that someone brings to bear when working in a deeply corrupt milieu.

  7. The foundations of this discussion are a bit fuzzy. Jeff may be leaning toward Romney and offering critical support, but I’d be surprised if this was so. On the other hand, he’s not offering a pro-Obama critique of the Republican ticket either. Other comments might be from people who support Romney, or might not. The fuzzy foundations haven’t prevented some thoughtful observations emerging, but its hard to see where they lead.

    I am definitely voting for Obama, and my voice-in-the-wilderness caveat is that I would like to see Ron Paul replace Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket. That’s not because I think the president and the congressman from Texas are soul mates. Its because the current political divide offers no coherent set of policies that can really motivate a majority of the electorate. It would be a fascinating hybrid to try.

    John Haas’s quote from DeMint is fascinating, because in context of subsequent history, it shows how far removed from what’s good for the country our politics has become. DeMint was the loud-mouth who said defeating the health care reform bill would be Obama’s Waterloo. That’s all he cared about, with Barack Obama in the White House.

    The health care bill that finally passed congress was a classic camel: a horse put together by a committee. Every lobbyist for every insurance company and hospital chain got their bite at the apple. No doubt many Republicans would have given the same consideration. But if DeMint had been true to the quote above, plunged in and said, you can have my vote, and a key handful of other Republicans too, if we structure this to provide a wide range of individual choices (then, if Senator Feingold had gotten in, and insisted SOME of those choices include public options), we could have had the world’s first libertarian universal health care law.

    But DeMint’s eye was on a very narrow prize, and passing a better law wasn’t in his scenario.

    Which brings us back to Paul Ryan. He was not only a protege of Kemp, but of his predecessor, Rep. Mark Neumann, a man of some integrity, but a notorious pro-business classical late 20th century Republican. Ryan comes from one of the wealthy “Irish mafia” families who own most of the economy in Janesville, WI, especially since General Motors shut down their plant. Its no surprise that his proposals are as anti-communitarian as can be. He is correct that we can’t have endless goodies without someone paying for them. But his proposals exemplify John D. Rockefeller’s definition of wealth: “A sign from God, saying this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” He can save the government quite a bit of money, by replacing Medicare with vouchers that will steadily fall behind the actual cost of health care, until nobody can afford it at all. That’s an Ayn Rand solution if I ever saw one.

    Ryan offers one thing Romney lacks: substance. It’s bad substance, but he has a set of principles, and he sincerely believes what he says. Romney, not unlike Al Gore, has taken every conceivable position on every conceivable issue at some point in his career, and stands for nothing but “Wouldn’t you like ME to be president??????:)

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