Commentary Magazine


Topic: Paul Ryan

Resisting the Ferguson Temptation

Some news stories are like Rorschach tests in that, irrespective of the facts of the cases, they inspire journalists, pundits, and politicians to ride all of their familiar hobbyhorses to death. That is the reality of the massive media coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a policeman, and the violent aftermath of that event is so obvious it barely needs to be pointed out. But as cable news stations embrace the story as another, perhaps juicier version of last year’s trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it might be better if more public figures embrace the stance enunciated by Rep. Paul Ryan.

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Some news stories are like Rorschach tests in that, irrespective of the facts of the cases, they inspire journalists, pundits, and politicians to ride all of their familiar hobbyhorses to death. That is the reality of the massive media coverage of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a policeman, and the violent aftermath of that event is so obvious it barely needs to be pointed out. But as cable news stations embrace the story as another, perhaps juicier version of last year’s trial of George Zimmerman for the shooting of Trayvon Martin, it might be better if more public figures embrace the stance enunciated by Rep. Paul Ryan.

Unlike virtually everyone else who has commented on the shooting and the subsequent rioting in Ferguson, Ryan simply asked that those who speak about these events refrain from attempts to exploit what has happened. Not succumbing to the temptation to use the social pathologies on display in Missouri as fodder to promote his new book, Ryan said the following:

“Don’t try to capitalize on this tragedy with your own policy initiatives, don’t try to link some prejudged conclusion on what’s happening on the ground right now,” the Wisconsin Republican said on “Fox and Friends.” “We should take a deep breath, let’s have some sympathy for the family and the community … and let’s let the investigation take its course and hope that justice is served appropriately.”

That’s good advice, and the media figures and so-called racial activists like Al Sharpton, who have descended upon Ferguson like a ravenous flock of vultures, would do well to heed it if they actually cared about the citizens of this troubled town or race relations across the country.

The Brown shooting, like the death of Martin, has become more of an opportunity to rehearse the usual litany of liberal ideological rants in which this heretofore-obscure town has become a symbol of racism. Rather than let the facts of the case—whatever they may be—be uncovered and then let the legal process play out, the impulse to prejudge the case has consistently prevailed. Whether that means an assumption that the police officer is guilty of murder or that the victim was somehow responsible for the incident, neither set of arguments has done much to advance the cause of justice of the peace of that community.

As Fred Siegel correctly noted in City Journal yesterday, most of those who have weighed in with commentary about Ferguson are stuck in the 1960s, a perspective from which all violence is viewed through the lens of the civil-rights movement. Those who play this game rarely stop to reflect that a half century later, an African-American president now governs the same country. Nor do they ponder the fact that solutions to the problems of such communities cannot be found in the playbook employed by those who protested against now vanished Jim Crow laws in an America that no longer exists. Sharpton and the pack of so-called civil-rights leaders who have parachuted into this mess have clearly done more harm than any possible good.

To acknowledge this reality does not oblige anyone to be indifferent to the anger of Ferguson residents about what they perceive as misconduct by the police or the ham-handed response to subsequent protests and riots by the authorities. But if we were to avoid merely repeating the same destructive narrative about racism that did so much damage in the Martin case, then it would behoove those commenting on the issue to refuse to rehearse, as Siegel says, “The grotesque pantomime of repression and redemption, riots and never-quite-achieved rewards, [that] plays out time and again.” As Siegel says, using Brown’s death to pivot into discussions about race, white flight, or urban/suburban jurisdiction disputes is a mistake.

Neither Sharpton nor anyone else talking on television really knows what happened when Brown died. Until we get a better handle on that question, they should stop fomenting the sort of anger that leads to riots and more violence as we have seen the last several nights in Ferguson. The cable news commentariat is as determined not to learn from their mistakes in this case, just as they were during Zimmerman’s trial. They will, instead, repeat the same cant about race and suggest more of the same failed policies that have helped perpetuate these problems rather than fix them. Until we learn to resist this temptation, as Siegel writes, that failure ensures “there will be more Fergusons.”

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Seeking the Welfare of the City

Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

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Representative Paul Ryan yesterday released a 73-page plan aimed at reforming anti-poverty programs and increasing social mobility.

The deficit-neutral plan would consolidate nearly a dozen federal anti-poverty programs into a single funding stream for states (called the “Opportunity Grant”); expand the Earned Income Tax Credit to childless workers; streamline federal grant, loan, and work-study programs and give more educational programs access to accreditation (thereby increasing more access to technical careers); revise the mandatory-minimum sentencing guidelines while expanding enrollment in rehabilitative programing; and roll back “regressive regulations” that are particularly injurious to low-income people while easing licensing requirements to enter the workforce. Thoughtful analyses of Ryan’s plan can be found here, here, and here.

There are several features of Ryan’s “Expanding Opportunity in America” plan that are worth highlighting. The first is that his core reform requires and rewards work for those states that would opt in. It would do so by expanding one the best features of the 1996 welfare reform bill, in this case implementing work requirements for people receiving non-cash welfare assistance. States would have flexibility in terms of how they spend federal dollars, so long as it’s spent on programs that require work. This is a way for government to promote not simply work over idleness, but the dignity and self-sufficiency that often result from work.

Representative Ryan is also showing Republicans the importance of structural reforms, which are more important even than only cutting spending. (This applied to his Medicare reform proposals as well.) Mr. Ryan is demonstrating through his proposal that he wants to strengthen the social safety net, not undo it. And by supporting EITC, an effective federal program that promotes work and reduces poverty, Ryan is showing an empirical-minded rather than ideological approach to governing. He’s interested in championing what works.

I’m also encouraged by the fact that Ryan proposes reducing corporate welfare (such as subsidies for agriculture and energy). I’ve argued before that Republicans should be visible and persistent critics of corporate welfare–the vast network of subsidies and tax breaks extended by Democratic and Republican administrations alike to wealthy and well-connected corporations–since such benefits undermine free markets and undercut the public’s confidence in American capitalism. “Ending corporate welfare as we know it” is a pretty good mantra for Republicans.

In the wider context of things, Ryan has shown that he is–along with Senators Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and others (including governors and former governors like Jeb Bush)–helping the GOP to be both conservative and constructive. They are able to present not just a governing vision but also a governing agenda–one that is designed to meet the challenges of this moment, this era, this century. This contrasts rather well, I think, with modern liberalism, which is increasingly reactionary and exhausted.

One other thing: Paul Ryan’s effort to combat poverty and increase social mobility is important and impressive because great parties and political movements will care about those in the shadows of society. “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you,” Jeremiah writes, “and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity you shall prosper.”

Politics involves many things, including rather mundane and even distasteful ones. But it also involves, at its best and at its highest, seeking the welfare of the city. That is something worthy of our attention and energies, as Paul Ryan and other prominent figures in the conservative movement understand.

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Ryan to IRS Commissioner: “This is Unbelievable. … Nobody Believes You.”

In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

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In a hearing about the IRS targeting of conservative groups, Representative Paul Ryan–during his exchange with IRS Commission John Koskinen–leveled a devastating criticism of Koskinen, essentially accusing him of being a liar. Mr. Ryan runs through the layers of deception, and pattern of abuse, we’re seen from the IRS so far, which now includes the fantastic claim that it has lost ex-IRS official Lois Lerner’s hard drive with emails relevant to the (illegal) audits of conservative groups. Lois Lerner’s crashed hard drive has been recycled, we’re now being told. (The Internal Revenue Service also revealed earlier this week that it can’t produce emails from six more employees involved in the targeting of conservative groups, including from Nikole Flax, the chief of staff to former IRS commissioner Steven Miller, who was fired in the wake of the targeting scandal.)

And here’s Ryan’s colleague, Kevin Brady, grilling Mr. Koskinen, saying this (h/t: HotAir.com):

Mr. Commissioner, why, at this point, why should anyone believe you? The IRS denied for two years targeting of Americans based on their political beliefs. That wasn’t the truth. They said it was a few rogue agents in Cincinnati. That wasn’t the truth. You said you were targeting liberal organizations. That wasn’t the truth. Then you assured us you would provide us all the emails in May and that wasn’t the truth. And today, you’re telling us out of thousands of IRS computers, the one that lost the emails was a person of interest in an ongoing congressional investigation. And that is not the truth either. This is the most corrupt and deceitful IRS in [American] history.

It’s fairly obvious, I think, that what has occurred is the destruction of evidence related to a congressional investigation about the abuse of power of one of the two most powerful agencies in government. Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal makes the case that “The IRS tea-party audit story isn’t Watergate; it’s worse than Watergate. The Watergate break-in was the professionals of the party in power going after the party professionals of the party out of power. The IRS scandal is the party in power going after the most average Americans imaginable.”

Whether it turns out to be worse than Watergate is impossible to know at this point. But it is bad enough. One question–not the only one, but an important one–is whether and how deep this scandal reaches into the rest of the Obama administration, including the Obama White House.

Inquiring minds want to know.

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The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

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In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

While Obama’s meteoric ascent to the White House may give each of the Republican senators hope, a relatively thin résumé can be a major liability, especially when the field could include current and former governors, such as Jeb Bush of Florida or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who can claim executive experience.

In addition, the GOP has a long track record of nominating presidential candidates with established national profiles who are seen as next in line — whether it was Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.

You can see the problem here. The GOP is moving away from next-in-linism anyway, but even if it weren’t, who would be the next in line? Arguably Paul Ryan, a 44-year-old member of the House. As for the field of governors, this is where Politico makes a good point–though the grassroots seem pretty energetically opposed to Jeb Bush, so his inclusion on that list makes less sense.

Indeed, the point is stronger if you exclude Jeb. Including Bush would make it easier for conservative voters to stay away from the “establishment” candidate. Taking Bush out of the lineup blurs the distinction a bit. If anything, the conservative grassroots have been too instinctively suspicious of (congressional) experience. Witness, for example, the quote Paul’s advisor gave Politico: “We have had great presidents who were governors, and terrible presidents who have been governors. Often the problem with senators who run for office is not that they haven’t been here long enough, it’s the exact opposite: Too often, they have been in Washington too long.”

The sense of entitlement is something the Tea Party has fought to root out of the party, and rightly so. The tendency to primary sitting congressmen has been a key expression of this, and a Jeb Bush candidacy would be its perfect target in 2016. But if Bush doesn’t run, the Politico argument is stronger. Neither Scott Walker nor Mike Pence is an establishment figure, certainly not the way Chris Christie was shaping up to be.

Although Pence has among the best resumes of the prospective candidates, I’m not sure his time as governor will have nearly the impact on the conservative electorate that Walker’s would, since Walker’s successful battle against the public unions became a national story and thus a cause célèbre, resulting even in a recall campaign against him–which he won as well.

The “experience” argument on its own almost certainly isn’t a game changer. But if the contest doesn’t include Jeb or Christie, a candidate with executive experience could also be a candidate with appeal to the base, making experience more valuable as a possible tie breaker. But throw in a genuinely moderate establishment candidate, and it could make the experience argument less, not more attractive to the base.

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The Left’s Intellectual and Moral Corruption

Back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Age of Obama, I made four predictions, the first of which was this 

while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

And so it has. Consider just the past few weeks. Representative Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley, “Do you think your Republican colleagues are racists?” To which Israel replied, “Not all of them, no. Of course not. But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.”

When Representative Paul Ryan made the perfectly obvious observation that there’s a real culture problem plaguing America’s inner cities, Representative Barbara Lee issued a statement saying, “My colleague, Congressman Ryan’s comments about inner city poverty are thinly-veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.”

Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed race issues for the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation. “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” she told reporters at her regular weekly press conference.

On and on it goes, to the point that the charge has been used so promiscuously and indiscriminately used that it is virtually meaningless. It tells you something about the modern left’s desperation that they invoke the racism charge so recklessly. It also provides us with a glimpse into the deep intellectual and moral corruption that has occurred. Many progressives seem to thrive on ad hominem attacks; it is the first response they reach for.

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Back in January 2009, at the dawn of the Age of Obama, I made four predictions, the first of which was this 

while Obama is riding high, race relations will be excellent. But once Obama goes down in the polls and he does things that elicit criticism, be prepared for the “race card” to be played. If it is, then race relations could be set back, because the charges will be so transparently false. If race was used by Obamacons against Bill Clinton, it will certainly be used against Republicans.

And so it has. Consider just the past few weeks. Representative Steve Israel, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley, “Do you think your Republican colleagues are racists?” To which Israel replied, “Not all of them, no. Of course not. But to a significant extent, the Republican base does have elements that are animated by racism.”

When Representative Paul Ryan made the perfectly obvious observation that there’s a real culture problem plaguing America’s inner cities, Representative Barbara Lee issued a statement saying, “My colleague, Congressman Ryan’s comments about inner city poverty are thinly-veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated.”

Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi blamed race issues for the GOP’s failure to act on comprehensive immigration legislation. “I think race has something to do with the fact that they’re not bringing up an immigration bill,” she told reporters at her regular weekly press conference.

On and on it goes, to the point that the charge has been used so promiscuously and indiscriminately used that it is virtually meaningless. It tells you something about the modern left’s desperation that they invoke the racism charge so recklessly. It also provides us with a glimpse into the deep intellectual and moral corruption that has occurred. Many progressives seem to thrive on ad hominem attacks; it is the first response they reach for.

We saw it with the forced resignation of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich because a half-dozen years ago he supported an effort by California citizens to prevent the redefinition of traditional marriage, thereby making him (in the eyes of some on the left) a bigot. We’ve seen it as well with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repeatedly attacking the Koch brothers for being “un-American” and accusing Mitt Romney of not paying income taxes; with allies of President Obama accusing Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign of being responsible for the cancer-related death of a steel worker’s wife; with Vice President Biden saying Republicans want to put African-Americans “back in chains;” and with Mr. Obama accusing Republicans of being “social Darwinists,” of putting their party ahead of their country, of wanting dirty air and dirty water, and of wanting autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

I have no idea whether those making these charges are being incredibly cynical or whether they’ve actually convinced themselves that those with whom they disagree, simply because they disagree, must be malignant. Whatever the explanation, the eagerness for any political movement, whatever its philosophy, to demonize rather than engage in an honest debate has an acidic effect on our civic and political culture. To be sure, no political party, and neither the left nor the right, have a monopoly on virtue. (It would help if more people were willing to call out those on their own side when lines of decency and propriety have been crossed.) In addition, politics has been a contact sport since our founding. (For more, see the brutal election of 1800 between Jefferson and Adams.) Still, we can do better, much better than we are; and for the sake of our country, we really should. 

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Jeb Bush and the 2016 GOP Field

George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

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George Will wrote a column in which he said of Jeb Bush, “A candidacy by Florida’s former governor would be desirable” and “[he] does … deserve a respectful hearing from the Republican nominating electorate.”


I agree, partly because I admire Bush, who was a highly successful, reform-minded conservative governor. His record as governor of Florida was, in fact, more conservative in key respects than Ronald Reagan’s record when he was governor of California. (Mr. Reagan signed into law what at the time was the largest tax hike ever proposed by any governor, whereas Bush cut taxes every year he was governor, covering eight years and totaling $20 billion.) Governor Bush also has the ability to appeal to non-traditional GOP voters. For example, he won 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 56 percent of their vote in 2002. (Hispanics are one of the fastest-rising demographic groups in America; in 2012, Mitt Romney won only 27 percent of their vote.)

There are people who have doubts Bush will run and who say that even if he did, he wouldn’t win. Perhaps. For my part, I hope he does run, assuming he can do so with, in his words, “joy in my heart.”

But I also hope many others run in 2016, not only those I’m favorably disposed toward (like Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker) but also those I’ve been more critical of (including Ted Cruz and Rick Perry). Chris Christie and Mike Huckabee would be formidable figures in a contest; I hope they, too, enter the contest. The same goes for Rand Paul, with whom I have substantial disagreements (he is far more libertarian than I am).

Why do I hope the GOP contest will include people I’m not wild about? Because I want as many serious and substantial figures in the race as possible, in order to have the best representatives of various currents of thought (and style) within conservatism make their case. These debates can be clarifying, in a healthy way. (Some of us still regret that Governor Mitch Daniels, one of the most impressive minds and political talents in the GOP, didn’t run in 2012.)

In addition, people who look good on paper and sound impressive when being interviewed on Meet the Press don’t necessarily do well in presidential contests, where the scrutiny and intensity are far beyond what anyone who hasn’t run can imagine. Some people you might think would do superbly well in a presidential contest flame out; others who one might think would flounder rise to the occasion. You never know until the contest begins. So my attitude is the more the better, at least above a certain threshold. (Please, no more figures like Herman Cain, Ron Paul, or Michele Bachmann.)


The 2016 presidential contest should be winnable, but it won’t be easy. Democrats have important advantages right now when it comes to presidential contests. Which is why for Republicans to prevail it will take the best the GOP can produce. Who is that individual right now?

I have no idea. And neither do you. 

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Sarah Palin Continues to Discredit Herself

Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

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Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

Consider this: On December 10, 2010, Ms. Palin published in her name an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why I Support the Ryan Roadmap.” Back then “the Roadmap for America’s Future produced by Rep. Paul Ryan… offers a reliable path to long-term solvency for our entitlement programs, and it does so by encouraging personal responsibility and independence.” And this: “Put simply: Our country is on the path toward bankruptcy. We must turn around before it’s too late, and the [Ryan] Roadmap offers a clear plan for doing so.”

And now consider this: The plan Palin supported in 2010 would have taken over 30 years to balance the budget. The plan she now opposes for not being sufficiently austere would balance the budget in ten years. Mr. Ryan himself has said that this plan cuts more spending than any budget he’s ever written, to the tune of $5.1 trillion over the next decade. In addition, Ryan’s plan calls for overhauling the tax code, repealing the Affordable Care Act, reforming entitlement programs, and promoting energy security.

Now you may believe, as I do, that Ms. Palin long ago ceased being a serious national voice. But she is representative of something real. She personifies a mindset within conservatism that is almost proudly anti-intellectual, one characterized by resentments, that relies on banalities, and is disconnected from reality. It views politics as a pose and seems to take special delight in targeting perceived heretics within the movement. It’s all rather silly.

At the same time, there is something problematic when people on the right, including the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008, attack those who are actually doing the hard, necessary work of providing a conservative governing alternative to the Obama years. I recognize that posting shallow reactions on Facebook is easier than offering serious analysis or putting together an actual budget. 

Easier, perhaps, but ultimately discrediting.

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Curbing Deficits While Preserving Security

Those of us who have been warning about the consequences of the excessive budget cuts being forced on the U.S. Armed Forces often hear that such cuts are politically unavoidable–that there is simply no willingness in Washington to either raise taxes or cut entitlement spending. Well at least one major political figure is willing to go where others fear to tread. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has just unveiled a budget blueprint that does the seemingly impossible–it balances the budget within 10 years without tax cuts and while restoring roughly $500 billion in defense cuts that will be forced upon the Pentagon if sequestration remains in effect.

The Washington Post summarizes his plan with a somewhat snarky spin: “Overall, Ryan would cut about $5.1 trillion from projected spending over the next decade, with nearly $3 trillion coming from repealing the health-care law and revamping Medicaid. Still, his proposals fall short of balancing the budget, forcing him to resort to a vague promise of new revenue from ‘economic growth’ to meet his goal of wiping out deficits by 2024.”

Actually it’s a good bet that the kind of budget-cutting, tax-simplifying blueprint Ryan proposes would, if adopted, accelerate economic growth, which is currently anemic. But even if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with running a reasonable budget deficit–just as families go into debt to buy a house, so the government can go into debt to achieve public objectives. The problem today is that the deficit is excessive. Ryan would bring it under control and do so without sacrificing defense spending.

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Those of us who have been warning about the consequences of the excessive budget cuts being forced on the U.S. Armed Forces often hear that such cuts are politically unavoidable–that there is simply no willingness in Washington to either raise taxes or cut entitlement spending. Well at least one major political figure is willing to go where others fear to tread. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has just unveiled a budget blueprint that does the seemingly impossible–it balances the budget within 10 years without tax cuts and while restoring roughly $500 billion in defense cuts that will be forced upon the Pentagon if sequestration remains in effect.

The Washington Post summarizes his plan with a somewhat snarky spin: “Overall, Ryan would cut about $5.1 trillion from projected spending over the next decade, with nearly $3 trillion coming from repealing the health-care law and revamping Medicaid. Still, his proposals fall short of balancing the budget, forcing him to resort to a vague promise of new revenue from ‘economic growth’ to meet his goal of wiping out deficits by 2024.”

Actually it’s a good bet that the kind of budget-cutting, tax-simplifying blueprint Ryan proposes would, if adopted, accelerate economic growth, which is currently anemic. But even if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with running a reasonable budget deficit–just as families go into debt to buy a house, so the government can go into debt to achieve public objectives. The problem today is that the deficit is excessive. Ryan would bring it under control and do so without sacrificing defense spending.

Will his plan be adopted anytime soon? Of course not–not with Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. But it at least shows what’s possible and it puts Republicans in a good position for future elections. If the party rallies behind the Ryan budget they will of course be accused of wanting to kick grandma to the curb, but such partisan charges ring increasingly hollow. Republicans will be able to counter that they have a serious plan to curb runaway deficits while at the same time preserving our defenses–that, in fact, there is no contradiction between those two goals.

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Ryan-Bashing Makes Dems Status Quo Party

So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

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So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

As he did with his previous budget proposals, Ryan does what pundits are always asking Congress to do and actually addresses the country’s budget dilemma and tries to provide a solution. While Democrats are grandstanding about the plight of the poor while proposing ideas like increasing the minimum wage that do more to hurt employment and the needy than help them, Ryan is seeking an answer to the question of how to actually create a new approaching to governing that is not based on kicking the can down the road. His approach to social welfare spending is not, contrary to the mischaracterizations of his opponents, to end them but to reform programs like Medicaid in such a manner as to make them viable in the long term and to provide individual with more choices and control over their coverage. Those government expenditures that he rightly wishes to eliminate are liberal playgrounds such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other frills that may please some people but are not the responsibility of government.

The key to his proposal is an effort to cut the “autopilot spending and interest payments” — what he rightly calls the “drivers of our debt.” The point is, unless we address entitlement spending head on, the country’s out-of-control taxing and spending will sink the nation in a sea of red ink that will ensure that promises of future benefits will only be kept by a crippling tax bill that will burden future generations and undermine chances for economic growth. What Ryan is offering the country is reform, not the promises of more government largesse paid for by taxing the rich that is the staple of administration rhetoric. The choice here is not between more help for the poor and a defense of the rich, as liberals would have it, but between an attempt at solving an unsustainable debt problem and a desire to ignore that problem. Ryan’s approach may not be perfect but in attacking him in this manner for having the chutzpah to present a serious proposal for changing the way Washington does business, Democrats are proving once again that they are the status quo party that is unwilling to take a hard look at how to address the nation’s spending addiction.

Ryan’s willingness to present his ideas even though there is no chance that a Democrat-controlled Senate will adopt them provides the president’s party with an opportunity to demagogue the issues. But it also proves that in the competition for ideas, Democrats would rather be the party mired in the past rather than the one that seeks a path to a growing economy unburdened by debt. In a midterm election driven more by concern over bumbling Democrat projects like ObamaCare, which increase the debt and the size of the government, that might not be as smart a strategy as they think it, is.

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The Liberal Slandering of Paul Ryan

If you want to know how fearful the left is of Paul Ryan, consider the efforts they make to slander him. In the past, they’ve portrayed him as someone eager to (literally) throw grandma over a cliff. The reason? Ryan wanted to make eminently sensible and absolutely necessary changes to Medicare.

Then came Barack Obama, who, when describing Ryan’s budget, made recklessly untrue assertions, saying (among other things) that Republicans want the elderly and autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

And now, as Jonathan Tobin has written, comes the latest attempted mugging of Ryan, this time for what he said on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program last week. When discussing his forthcoming effort to combat poverty, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate said this:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

The left immediately attacked. Some, like Representative Barbara Lee, accused Ryan of mounting a “thinly veiled racial attack”–one that “cannot be tolerated.” Others, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, wrote that Ryan’s words amounted to a “racial dog whistle.”

These charges, and there are plenty of others like them, are grotesquely false. I have known Ryan since he was a colleague at Empower America in the 1990s. One of the reasons he was so close to both Bennett and Jack Kemp is because Ryan had a deep concern for those living in the shadows of society, including in America’s inner cities. He also believes Republicans have not focused enough on the problems plaguing the underclass. Both help explain his latest effort to offer conservative solutions to rising poverty. 

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If you want to know how fearful the left is of Paul Ryan, consider the efforts they make to slander him. In the past, they’ve portrayed him as someone eager to (literally) throw grandma over a cliff. The reason? Ryan wanted to make eminently sensible and absolutely necessary changes to Medicare.

Then came Barack Obama, who, when describing Ryan’s budget, made recklessly untrue assertions, saying (among other things) that Republicans want the elderly and autistic and Down syndrome children to “fend for themselves.”

And now, as Jonathan Tobin has written, comes the latest attempted mugging of Ryan, this time for what he said on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” program last week. When discussing his forthcoming effort to combat poverty, the House Budget Committee chairman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate said this:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

The left immediately attacked. Some, like Representative Barbara Lee, accused Ryan of mounting a “thinly veiled racial attack”–one that “cannot be tolerated.” Others, like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, wrote that Ryan’s words amounted to a “racial dog whistle.”

These charges, and there are plenty of others like them, are grotesquely false. I have known Ryan since he was a colleague at Empower America in the 1990s. One of the reasons he was so close to both Bennett and Jack Kemp is because Ryan had a deep concern for those living in the shadows of society, including in America’s inner cities. He also believes Republicans have not focused enough on the problems plaguing the underclass. Both help explain his latest effort to offer conservative solutions to rising poverty. 

It should matter that what Ryan told Bennett is true, as anyone who has spent time in America’s inner cities and working with kids there can testify. The reasons for the hardships facing those living in America’s inner cities are complicated and not simply cultural; they are economic as well. But to say that there isn’t a problematic culture that has taken root in America’s inner cities is a lie; and to attack those like Ryan who speak about it is to compound the lie.

Why are some liberals doing this? For one thing, they are intellectually exhausted. They know they cannot win the debate on the merits, and so they resort to ad hominem attacks. It is what some on the left instantaneously resort to. Mr. Krugman is a prime example of this. He is a man who seems to gain energy from nursing his political hatreds and takes delight in degrading political commentary. (The latter isn’t an easy achievement.) 

But as Jonathan points out, there’s something more fundamental going on here. Liberals who have complicity in the problems plaguing America’s inner cities are attempting to make an honest conversation about poverty impossible. They are signaling that they intend to try to take out Republicans who want to address some of the root causes, the behavioral causes, of poverty.

The danger here is two-fold. One is that by promiscuously invoking racism when it doesn’t apply, they are draining the term of real meaning. Many people already have stopped, and many more will stop, paying attention when the term is so carelessly bandied about.

The other is that some on the left not only aren’t focusing on the institutions, policies, and individuals who are responsible for exacerbating poverty; they are actually building a protective wall around them. For them the villain isn’t, say, the ruinous public school systems in Chicago, Detroit, and D.C. that are destroying the lives and future of hundreds of thousands of kids; it’s Paul Ryan, who among other things supports school choice for inner-city parents. This is what large parts of liberalism have been reduced to: the praetorian guard of corrupt, poverty-creating institutions and organizations.

Paul Ryan is among the most decent and admirable politicians in America. He’s also among the smartest. Which explains the obsession and hatred many on the left have with him. He’s a threat to their ideas, to their policies, and ultimately to their power. The viciousness of their attacks is a testimony to his effectiveness. What was said by those who supported Franklin Roosevelt can also be said by those who admire Paul Ryan: We love you for the enemies you have made.

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Ryan and Liberal Welfare-State Amnesia

At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

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At first it seemed like just a minor kerfuffle, the sort of thing that happens to every politician and soon fades away. Paul Ryan says something on a talk show. Liberals howl. Conservatives defend. And a couple of days later nobody even remembers what it was about. But now I’m convinced it’s about something bigger than the normal inside-baseball political fights. What’s at stake is an attempt to reinstate the old shibboleths that were the foundation of the liberal welfare state that was buried when President Bill Clinton said the era of big government was over and then signed a historic welfare reform act into law.

I’m referring, of course, to the dustup that ensued after the chair of the House Budget Committee said the following on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

That provoked the left to blast him as a racist using “dog whistle” politics in which “inner cities” means black. But as I pointed out on Friday, the faux outrage being ginned up against Ryan flew in the face of just about everything we had learned about the role that family breakdowns and cultural problems have played in creating and perpetuating poverty. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a recognition that one of the unintended consequences of the creation of the welfare state was the way it had produced a near-permanent underclass in our cities that no amount of government largesse seemed capable of ameliorating. As I noted last week, the backlash against Ryan seemed rooted in forgetting everything Daniel Patrick Moynihan taught us about the subject.

But rather than tailing off after a day as I anticipated, the assault on Ryan seems to be growing. In the last three days, we’ve seen a new round of attacks from even more prominent sources such as this hit piece from Politico Magazine and a 700-word-long rant from (as the Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto likes to call him) “former Enron advisor” Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Yet rather than this being a case of the left simply seeking to damage a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, what is going on is something much bigger. The discussion about “income inequality” was intended to change the subject from ObamaCare and to breathe some life into the lame-duck Obama presidency but it is now morphing into something far more ambitious: erasing the last half-century of debate about the problems of the welfare state.

Ryan’s problem is not just that he tripped over the way some on the left have tried to turn the use of the phrase “inner cities” into a code word for racist incitement. The newly energized left wing of the Democratic Party wants something far bigger than to delegitimize the intellectual leader of the Republican congressional caucus. What they want is to take us back to those heady days of the 1960s before Moynihan’s report on the black family started to strip away the veneer of good intentions that defended government policies that hurt the poor far more than it helped them.

The point is, absent the buzz words about inner cities, you’d have to have spent the last 50 years trapped in some kind of time warp in order to think there was anything even vaguely controversial about the notion that cultural problems play a huge role in creating poverty. To his credit, Andrew Sullivan concedes as much when he defended Ryan from attacks by fellow liberals. Sullivan gets bogged down in a defense of Charles Murray’s seminal book Losing Ground and the question of various ethnic groups’ IQ numbers.

But the argument here is far more basic than such esoteric intellectual debates. The talk about income inequality isn’t only an attempt to associate Republicans with their traditional allies in big business and reposition Democrat elites as the friend of the working class. The goal of resurgent liberalism is also to reboot discussions about poverty in such a way as to ignore decades of research and debate about the ways in which dependency on the government breeds unemployment and multi-generational families mired in poverty.

That’s why the need for pushback on the slurs aimed at Ryan is so important. For decades, fear of telling the truth about the social pathologies bred by big government was assumed to be a permanent obstacle that would prevent change. The racism canard constituted the third rail of American politics that even reform-minded Republicans feared to touch. But by the ’90s, even many liberals understood the system was unsustainable. The passage of welfare reform was an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that New Deal and Great Society liberalism had flaws that could no longer be ignored. But the shift left under Obama has given some liberals the belief that they can recreate the politics of the past and undo everything Moynihan and Clinton had done to change the national conversation about welfare and poverty. Instead of taking into account the way government policies create havoc for society and the poor, we may go back to the old liberal shibboleths that assume that throwing more money at a problem is the only solution and that the state can do no wrong.

What is at stake here is something far bigger than Paul Ryan’s political prospects. The future of generations of poor Americans trapped by government dependency hangs in the balance if the amnesia about the welfare state that is the foundation of the attacks on Ryan spread. Fair-minded Democrats who remember the cost to the country and to the poor, including so many minority families from an unrestrained welfare state, need to join with conservatives and restore some sanity as well as historical memory to this debate.

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In Trashing Ryan, Liberals Forget Moynihan

In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

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In 1965, future U.S. senator and then assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan published a seminal report that began the process of changing the way America approached the issue of inner city poverty. The report, “The Negro Family: The Case for Action” raised a storm of controversy because it noted the impact of the breakdown of the nuclear family and the destructive nature of the culture of urban ghettos in which work was devalued. Rather than economics determining the social conditions, the report pointed out that the opposite was true.

Though he traced the roots of this depressing pattern back to slavery and Jim Crow discrimination, Moynihan was blasted as a racist and for denigrating blacks. But for those who truly cared about helping the poor and doing something about the way the welfare state had created a permanent urban underclass, the report was prophetic and helped pave the way for future efforts to reform welfare.

But for those who still make a living from race baiting and diverting the attention of the country from the facts about what produces multi-generational poverty, the truth of Moynihan’s conclusions are still blasphemy. Such persons lie in wait not only to derail efforts to address the problems of the black family and urban poverty but to tar all those who speak about the issue as racists in the same way that Moynihan was attacked nearly 50 years ago. And it is into just such a trap that Rep. Paul Ryan walked earlier this week when Rep. Barbara Lee blasted him.

Ryan was forced to backtrack yesterday from remarks he made on Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” radio show in which he spoke of the problems of poverty, family, and work in blighted neighborhoods. As Politico reports, Ryan said the following:

“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” he said, urging everyone to get involved in blighted communities even if they live in the suburbs.

Lee responded with this statement:

My colleague Congressman Ryan’s comments about ‘inner city’ poverty are a thinly veiled racial attack and cannot be tolerated. Let’s be clear, when Mr. Ryan says ‘inner city’ when he says, ‘culture,’ these are simply code words for what he really means: ‘black,’” Lee said.

Ryan denied he was attacking blacks but said that perhaps he had not fully articulated what he was trying to say.

What is most unfortunate about this is not just the way our political culture rewards hypocrites like Lee for crying racism where none exists or that Ryan felt that he had to apologize for saying something that is not only factual but painfully obvious. Rather, the real problem here is that all these years after Moynihan first took the heat for breaking the silence about what causes the cycle of poverty, speaking the truth about the subject is still controversial.

For people like Lee and a host of other racial inciters and their liberal media enablers like Ana Marie Cox, the imperative to address the breakdown of the culture of work and family in poverty-stricken areas is still trumped by their need to use the racist label as a political weapon.

What makes this even more pathetic is that the patterns that Moynihan first wrote about in 1965 now apply to other groups afflicted by poverty. The epidemic of fatherless homes and single mothers on welfare has long since ceased being primarily a black problem but become one that impacts whites and other groups just as harshly. To claim that talking about this vicious cycle of poverty and government dependency is a matter of code words about race is not only a canard but also outdated.

This sorry chapter teaches us that as much as we may think we have transcended the past, the race baiters are bound and determined to see to it that the country doesn’t learn the lessons from decades of failed liberal policies. Race has nothing to this. What this country needs are more people in public life like Ryan who are knowledgeable enough to speak about this basic problem and fewer who thrive on avoiding honest discussions about poverty.

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GOP Task: From Oppositional to Governing Conservatism

“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

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“Of a sudden,” the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in 1981, “the GOP has become a party of ideas.” 

Senator Moynihan’s statement suggested two things: liberalism was exhausted and conservatives took advantage of the opening by offering an agenda that matched the challenges of that moment: high inflation and interest rates, a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent, “stagflation,” a hollowed out military and Soviet advances all over the world.

Today, once again, liberalism is out of steam. As they watch their unwieldy health-care law sputter and disappoint, liberals don’t have much else to turn to. Their own top priorities tend to be unpopular, and both their ideology and their political coalition constrain them from speaking to the public’s main concerns—economic stagnation and the middle-class squeeze. The president ran for re-election on remarkably little policy substance, and now offers even less. Who could say what his governing vision consists of? 

Not surprisingly, he has witnessed a major collapse in his public support, especially among independents, which in most polls now disapprove of the president’s handling of the economy by a two-to-one margin. About two-thirds of Americans say the country is on the wrong track. Even more are angry about the way things are going in Washington. And public confidence in government is near historic lows. So the moment is ripe for the GOP, at the national level, to offer the public a real alternative.

Whether it will, of course, remains an open question. But recent months have offered some encouraging signs. Republicans already showed some real leadership in the president’s first term by offering a serious, market-oriented Medicare-reform proposal—produced by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and backed by essentially every Republican in Congress.

Earlier this year, Senators Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, and Orrin Hatch followed up with a health-care proposal that would cover as many people as the Affordable Care Act without the taxes, mandates, and burdensome regulations and at a far lower cost by empowering consumers. Another ambitious health-reform bill is now co-sponsored by a majority of House Republicans.

Mr. Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio (among others) have proposed serious reforms to help sustain the safety net for the poor by re-orienting it toward work and opportunity. House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp and Senator Mike Lee have each proposed a major tax reform plan—and a combination of the two could well make for a winning Republican tax agenda. Other prominent proposals have included reforms of higher-education policy to increase options and lower costs, and reforms of transportation policy, the criminal-justice system, unemployment assistance, and more.

It is still fashionable in some circles to call Republicans the “Party of No,” but when has there been such a flurry of concrete policy proposals from an opposition party in Congress?

Even these proposals, of course, are only a start. They have yet to gain broad support, or to be brought together into a coherent conservative agenda. But they are suitable for such an effort, and they offer plausible, targeted, market-friendly approaches in precisely the areas that most trouble voters, and where Democrats have been failing most decisively.

A party that controls one-half of one-third of the federal government can’t hope to see its agenda become law at this point, and high profile confrontations with the Obama administration – such as the government shutdown last October – have mostly ended disastrously. But what the Republican Party can do is gradually build a new internal consensus around a policy agenda of conservative reforms that appeal to a broad base of voters, and which Republican candidates and the party’s next presidential nominee can then run on.

To approach the success of Republicans of past eras, those of this generation must again show how their ideas will improve the lives of American families in concrete ways by applying timeless American principles to a new set of American challenges. Today’s GOP has not done nearly enough of that.

The Republican Party can be the party of the 21st century by showing itself able and willing to reform public institutions that were designed for the needs of the mid-20th century – many of which are now antiquated and out of touch not only with the needs of our time but the expectations of Americans in an age of constant innovation and endless choices.

It can own the future by showing the public how limited government can also be effective government. It can succeed, in other words, by embodying not just an oppositional conservatism but also a governing conservatism.

It’s not yet clear if the party is ready to follow this path. But it is worth noting even modest signs of hope.

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Will the 2016 GOP Nomination Turn on Foreign Policy?

The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

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The “trading places” theme of the 2016 presidential election continues, with the latest indication that the Republicans have become the party of internal discord and dissent powered by a younger generation of politicians and voters while the Democrats have become the party of entrenched cliqueocracy. The New York Times reports today on its latest poll, conducted jointly with CBS News, on the political figures each party’s voters want to see run for president.

More than 80 percent of Democrats said they wanted Hillary Clinton to run, with only 13 percent saying they’d rather she not. That is, as the Times notes, “a level of interest in her that no other potential candidates – Democrat or Republican – come close to matching among their party’s voters.” More intriguing are the post-Bridgegate levels of interest in Republican candidates. The support for a Chris Christie candidacy is now ten points underwater. The candidates with the most voter interest on the right–surely having something to do with name recognition–are Jeb Bush and Rand Paul, each at about 40 percent.

The Times continues:

Thirty-two percent of Republicans say they want Senator Marco Rubio of Florida to run, although Mr. Rubio also seems to have fewer detractors than Mr. Bush or Mr. Paul (more do not know enough about him to say). Only 15 percent of Republicans said they did not want Mr. Rubio to run, compared with 21 percent for Mr. Paul and 27 percent for Mr. Bush. Twenty-four percent said they hoped Senator Ted Cruz of Texas would run, compared with 15 percent who said they did not want him to. Fifty-nine percent do not know enough about Mr. Cruz to say.

The poll did not ask about several other potential Republican candidates, including Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. No major candidates in either party have yet declared their candidacy, but several have taken steps indicating that they are seriously considering a run.

It’s certainly true that a complete 2016 preview would include voter opinions on Scott Walker and probably Paul Ryan as well–even though the latter does not appear to be gearing up for a presidential run, he was on the ticket last time and has been a leader of the “reform conservatism” caucus in Congress. But this poll isn’t a zero-sum “who would you vote for” survey, so the results still tell us a lot.

There is more opposition to a Paul candidacy and a Jeb Bush candidacy than to either Rubio or Cruz. In the case of Bush, his last name–as he recently acknowledged–probably has much to do with it. The opposition to Paul is noteworthy. The Kentucky libertarian is far from the divisive figure his father was as a candidate and congressman. Paul’s brand of conservatism has even hinted at a bipartisan appeal, especially on privacy and criminal-justice reform, without earning him the dreaded RINO label.

In fact, the area of Paul’s ideology that would breed concern among the party faithful is his outlook on foreign policy. If that’s the case, it’s significant. Paul’s admirers have always thought the most potent threat within the GOP to Paul’s anti-interventionist foreign policy came from the party elites. That’s one way his supporters have dismissed opposition to his views on foreign affairs: as neoconservative holdovers from the Bush administration.

That’s never really been the case, though. Indeed, if Paul has establishment support in the GOP it’s among the Bakerite realists. There is something ironic about treating a younger generation of conservatives–the George W. Bush team, largely–as has-beens whose old road is rapidly aging while drawing conceptual support and guidance from the prior generation–the George H.W. Bush team, largely. That doesn’t mean Paul’s views are unpopular. They have plenty of support, as evidenced by the fact that while more voters want Christie to sit out this election than run, that’s not even close to true of Paul.

But this does get at one possible obstacle to Paul’s run for the nomination. He is unlikely to have the big-government opponent he’d prefer to contrast himself with. His popularity is due in part to the fact that libertarian economic policy has become more accepted in the GOP in recent years, but that same popularity deprives him of his opposite. Instead, he’s likely to run against a range of candidates who mostly agree with him–and the base–on economic matters but not on foreign policy. It would be a fairly unexpected twist if the post-Iraq and Afghanistan GOP primary turned on foreign policy, but it might just be heading in that direction.

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Poverty, Social Mobility, and the Party of Lincoln

Yesterday Senator Marco Rubio delivered a major speech on poverty and social mobility. It’s impressive for several reasons.

While not ignoring the issue of income inequality, he made what I think is the correct and important point: Lack of social mobility, not income inequality, is what we should focus on. And the speech was intellectually impressive in part because it was intellectually honest. Senator Rubio explained with some sophistication the reasons for what he calls “opportunity inequality”–including long-term economic, social, cultural, and educational causes. This speech was not politically partisan or shallow; it admitted the causes of poverty and decreasing social mobility are complex. (Many European countries now have as much social mobility as, and more opportunity than, the United States; and today a child’s future depends on parental income more in America than it does in Canada and Europe.) Senator Rubio’s address deepened the public’s understanding of these issues, and that’s all to the good.

On the policy side of things, Senator Rubio’s proposals on the Flex Fund (which would consolidate many anti-poverty programs that in turn would be distributed to the states to enact their own anti-poverty agenda) and transforming the Earned Income Tax Credit into a real wage subsidy are promising steps, with more, I gather, to follow.

What Mr. Rubio unveiled yesterday merits support on federalism and subsidiary grounds, in terms of how we should think about the working poor versus those who are unable to work, because it incentivizes work and creates incentives to avoid unemployment programs, and because it makes upward mobility more, not less, likely. (For a more detailed and illuminating discussion of the merits of Rubio’s proposals, see here and here.)

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Yesterday Senator Marco Rubio delivered a major speech on poverty and social mobility. It’s impressive for several reasons.

While not ignoring the issue of income inequality, he made what I think is the correct and important point: Lack of social mobility, not income inequality, is what we should focus on. And the speech was intellectually impressive in part because it was intellectually honest. Senator Rubio explained with some sophistication the reasons for what he calls “opportunity inequality”–including long-term economic, social, cultural, and educational causes. This speech was not politically partisan or shallow; it admitted the causes of poverty and decreasing social mobility are complex. (Many European countries now have as much social mobility as, and more opportunity than, the United States; and today a child’s future depends on parental income more in America than it does in Canada and Europe.) Senator Rubio’s address deepened the public’s understanding of these issues, and that’s all to the good.

On the policy side of things, Senator Rubio’s proposals on the Flex Fund (which would consolidate many anti-poverty programs that in turn would be distributed to the states to enact their own anti-poverty agenda) and transforming the Earned Income Tax Credit into a real wage subsidy are promising steps, with more, I gather, to follow.

What Mr. Rubio unveiled yesterday merits support on federalism and subsidiary grounds, in terms of how we should think about the working poor versus those who are unable to work, because it incentivizes work and creates incentives to avoid unemployment programs, and because it makes upward mobility more, not less, likely. (For a more detailed and illuminating discussion of the merits of Rubio’s proposals, see here and here.)

As for politics: This kind of effort can only help the Republican Party, which has been too disengaged and morally indifferent to the problems facing the poor for too long. It has not offered a compelling agenda that addresses the economic and structural problems that face (especially) those living in the shadows of society. Whether or not to support or oppose Senator Rubio’s proposals should hinge on the substantive merits. But of course you can’t take the politics out of politics, and so as a purely political matter, focusing on the plight of the poor would certainly make middle-class voters, and especially middle-class women, more amenable to the GOP.

I’ve written before that social mobility is the central moral promise of American economic life; the hallmark of our system is the potential for advancement and greater prosperity rooted in merit and hard work rather than in the circumstances of one’s birth. This was the key insight of Lincoln, who noted that “the progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account and hire somebody else … is the great principle for which this government was really formed.”

It’s time that the Party of Lincoln more fully embrace the philosophy of Lincoln. That is, I think, what Marco Rubio (and congressional Republicans, like Representatives Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan and Senator Mike Lee) are doing. More Republicans should follow their lead. 

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Compromise, Moderation, and the American Constitution

Those interested in a cogent defense of the budget agreement that passed the House late last week, and which sparked a storm of criticism from some on the right, should listen to this interview by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  

Among other things, Ryan addresses the charge that the problem with the deal is that it raises spending now in exchange for future (and imaginary) cuts later. Chairman Ryan points out that this deal would result in a change in law now–and that unless a future Congress passes a new law, the entitlement savings it calls for will actually exceed the $85 billion figure often cited. (The reason that is quite unlikely is explained here.)

The reaction to the deal, from some quarters at least, also highlighted what I view as a problematic mindset among some on the right. We saw it manifest itself during the budget shutdown in October, when several GOP Senators refused to “abandon their infatuation with glorious martyrdom,” in the words of Michael Medved and John Podhoretz in their excellent essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY. The result was injurious to both the GOP and the conservative cause. But no matter; they had passed the purity test. 

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Those interested in a cogent defense of the budget agreement that passed the House late last week, and which sparked a storm of criticism from some on the right, should listen to this interview by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.  

Among other things, Ryan addresses the charge that the problem with the deal is that it raises spending now in exchange for future (and imaginary) cuts later. Chairman Ryan points out that this deal would result in a change in law now–and that unless a future Congress passes a new law, the entitlement savings it calls for will actually exceed the $85 billion figure often cited. (The reason that is quite unlikely is explained here.)

The reaction to the deal, from some quarters at least, also highlighted what I view as a problematic mindset among some on the right. We saw it manifest itself during the budget shutdown in October, when several GOP Senators refused to “abandon their infatuation with glorious martyrdom,” in the words of Michael Medved and John Podhoretz in their excellent essay in the current issue of COMMENTARY. The result was injurious to both the GOP and the conservative cause. But no matter; they had passed the purity test. 

Then there are those who fancy themselves as “constitutional conservatives” who view efforts at compromise as per se evidence of lack of principles. Virtually every time they invoke the word “compromise,” it is a pejorative. This strikes me as somewhat puzzling for “constitutional conservatives.” In the past I’ve cited a lovely passage in Miracle at Philadelphia in which Catherine Drinker Bowen writes, “In the Constitutional Convention, the spirit of compromise reigned in grace and glory; as Washington presided, it sat on his shoulder like the dove.”

The Constitution was the result of a whole series of accommodations. There was even a deal struck that came to be known as the Great Compromise, by which every state was to have two members in the United States Senate, offsetting proportional representation in the House. Without the Great Compromise, Bowen writes, “it is hard to see how the Federal Convention could have proceeded further.” Which means the Constitution that some on the right say they revere would never have seen the light of day.

Some modern conservatives have a similar disdain for the word “moderation,” the spirit and temperament that allows for compromise. But if one reads The Federalist Papers–universally regarded as the best commentary on our Constitution and authored by two of the three most important founders (Madison and Hamilton)–one finds the word “moderation” used in a positive sense in almost every instance. In Federalist No. 37, for example, Madison refers to “that spirit of moderation” that is essential in understanding which public measures are in the public good, while in Federalist No. 85 Hamilton writes, “These judicious reflections contain a lesson of moderation to all sincere lovers of the Union.”

Now for the necessary caveats: Compromise and moderation can, in particular circumstances, set back the cause of liberty and the public good. It’s impossible to know whether a compromise is wise without knowing the details of any given deal. And we certainly need people in politics who insist not simply on compromise but also take steps toward certain ideals. Most of us gravitate toward one end of the continuum at the expense of the other.

In any event, my main point is that today–especially among those who claim fidelity to the Constitution and its authors and architects–the idea of compromise and moderation is held in contempt. The problem is that this attitude is at odds with the Constitution and the Federalist founders. To position conservatism as for all intents and purposes hostile to compromise and moderation is, I think, an act of philosophical and historical disfigurement, and unwise politically.

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A Setback for Manichean Conservatives

In the end, it wasn’t close.

The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bipartisan budget deal crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray. Republicans voted in favor of it by a 169-62 margin. And fully 66 percent of the Republican Study Committee supported it (the RSC is a group of the most conservative House Republicans). This despite fierce criticism of the deal by conservative groups and Tea Party activists.

What explains the route? Several factors, I think.

The deal itself, if imperfect, was certainly defensible given the current political landscape. It’s also hard to overstate the importance of Ryan’s role in winning over so many House Republicans. Highly respected by his conference and highly trusted as a conservative, the fact that Ryan was the architect of the agreement reassured Republicans who might otherwise have broken away.

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In the end, it wasn’t close.

The House of Representatives voted in favor of the bipartisan budget deal crafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray. Republicans voted in favor of it by a 169-62 margin. And fully 66 percent of the Republican Study Committee supported it (the RSC is a group of the most conservative House Republicans). This despite fierce criticism of the deal by conservative groups and Tea Party activists.

What explains the route? Several factors, I think.

The deal itself, if imperfect, was certainly defensible given the current political landscape. It’s also hard to overstate the importance of Ryan’s role in winning over so many House Republicans. Highly respected by his conference and highly trusted as a conservative, the fact that Ryan was the architect of the agreement reassured Republicans who might otherwise have broken away.

Another factor in passage was removing the possibility of another government shutdown, which blew up in the faces of the GOP when it was tried in October. Those on the right (like Senator Ted Cruz) who predicted wonderful things that would emerge from a shutdown–up to and including defunding ObamaCare–were embarrassed. Only a foolish party, having been clubbed once, would return for more. But something else seems to be going on as well: Apocalypse fatigue.

To be sure, thoughtful people on the right opposed the budget agreement. But libertarians and conservatives who portrayed this deal as a “cave in” and a “shame” and an example of “a party that has lost its principles and bearings” look rather silly.

This budget deal (which now heads to the Senate) may be a marginally good one or it may be a marginally bad one; but it was hardly a dramatic or defining moment in the history of modern conservatism. It’ll be forgotten in a few weeks (and maybe in a few days). Yet there are some on the right who insist on turning every debate into a battle between liberty and tyranny, pitting the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness. For them it’s Def Con 1 all the time. It’s the American Revolution all over again.

This approach can be entertaining up to a point, but it grows old and stale after a time; and a party that follows its Manichean Wing ends up battered and damaged.

One senses that the vote yesterday was a small step away from the suicide caucus, toward governing maturity, and toward a liberation of sorts.

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Has John Boehner Learned His Lesson?

It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

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It was a short sound bite but it was replayed endlessly yesterday, angering some conservatives and leaving liberals chortling. When House Speaker John Boehner was asked during a press conference with other Republican leaders about criticisms from conservative activist groups of the budget deal struck by Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, he exploded:

REPORTER: Mr. Speaking, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you –

BOEHNER: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

REPORTER: Are you worried –

BOEHNER: They are using our members and they are using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous. Listen, if you’re for more deficit reduction, you’re for this agreement.

This is not the first time Boehner has responded to criticism with anger and frustration. But it was a dramatic change of tone on the part of the convivial and often-teary-eyed and sentimental House speaker when it came to the conservative groups and their Tea Party supporters within his caucus. After all, it was only three months ago that Boehner was dragged reluctantly into a damaging government shutdown by the same organizations and members who were carping about the Ryan deal yesterday. Though no one should expect Boehner to be a changed man from the indecisive speaker of the shutdown crisis, he may have learned at least a couple of important lessons from that difficult experience. The days of the Tea Party tale wagging the House Republican big dog appear to be over.

The incident and the debate about the budget deal are bringing out into the open a conservative civil war that had previously been conducted behind closed doors, at least as far as the House leadership was concerned. Prior to the shutdown there was little doubt that Boehner wasn’t happy about the way some House conservatives and, even more importantly, advocacy groups like Heritage Action and FreedomWorks were helping to limit his options in negotiations with the Democrats. Though he made it clear enough that he knew the decision to try and force the defunding of ObamaCare was doomed to failure and that it would hurt his party, Boehner wound up bowing to the demands of Heritage, Ted Cruz, and the rest of the suicide caucus in the House.

The thinking then was that Boehner worried that if he thwarted those who believed such radical tactics were the only possible response to the health-care law’s implementation, the House Republican membership would be irretrievably split and his speakership might be threatened. What followed was a disaster that not only materially damaged the Republican Party but, just as importantly, served to obscure the ObamaCare rollout fiasco for three weeks as the mainstream media focused instead on those who had warned him against letting himself be buffaloed into a futile shutdown. After 17 days of a shutdown, Republicans were forced to give in having accomplished nothing other than to make his party and congressional Republicans look just like the extremist caricature Democrats had tried to paint them as being.

However, the conclusion of this drama also exploded the myth that Heritage and company really had the power to thwart any effort to pull back from the brink. When Boehner finally concluded a deal that was little more than a face-saving surrender to end the shutdown, the activists screamed bloody murder and warned they would back primary challenges against any Republican who went along. But the tide had shifted against them and few heeded their threats. By the time the dust settled, even some on the right like Senator Rand Paul were admitting the whole thing had been a mistake.

The speaker emerged from this trial chastened by the experience but perhaps also realizing that the bark of the Tea Party caucus was worse than its bite. Many Republicans will oppose the Ryan deal that more or less formalizes a truce with the Democrats on budget issues for the next year and Heritage and others will, as they did with the shutdown, try and make it a litmus test of conservative bona fides. But Boehner and even a conservative deep thinker like Ryan have rightly come to the conclusion that the agreement with Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray is not only as much as they can reasonably hope to get. Even more to the point, they understand that paralyzing the government and Congress with manufactured crises, in order to push for more deficit reduction and the entitlement reform the nation needs but won’t get so long as control of Congress is split between the two parties, is a critical mistake. The nation as a whole and even most rank-and-file Republicans have had enough of the shutdown mentality. Three months ago, it may have seemed as if Boehner had no choice but to accede to the demands of the Tea Partiers. The shutdown may have convinced him that he doesn’t have to do that anymore.

Having methodically worked his way to the leadership over the course of a long career in the House, Boehner is no pushover. But during his time as speaker he hasn’t exactly come across as the sort of politician whom challengers cross at their peril. But the events of the last few months may mean that he will never again be bullied into taking a course of action that he knows is mistaken. This week he has called the Tea Party’s bluff in exactly the manner that many in his party wish he had done back in September. If he sticks to this resolve, both the Congress and the Republican Party will be better off for it.

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Marco Rubio and the Perils of Opportunism

The opponents of the bipartisan budget deal oppose it for different reasons, and some of the opposition is undoubtedly based on principle. But some of the opposition, it appears, is based on something rather less admirable.  

Take Senator Marco Rubio. He originally voted against the sequester, in part, he said, because it cut defense too much. “Defense funding should be driven by our national security needs, not by arbitrary fiscal arithmetic,” he said in a joint statement with other senators. “We cannot responsibly allow across-the-board, draconian defense cuts to go forward at the expense of our national security.”

Now he’s criticizing a budget deal that would increase spending on defense while also slightly cutting the deficit, arguing that we shouldn’t give up the sequestration deal he initially opposed. And he’s the one complaining about the lack of “long-term thinking.”

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The opponents of the bipartisan budget deal oppose it for different reasons, and some of the opposition is undoubtedly based on principle. But some of the opposition, it appears, is based on something rather less admirable.  

Take Senator Marco Rubio. He originally voted against the sequester, in part, he said, because it cut defense too much. “Defense funding should be driven by our national security needs, not by arbitrary fiscal arithmetic,” he said in a joint statement with other senators. “We cannot responsibly allow across-the-board, draconian defense cuts to go forward at the expense of our national security.”

Now he’s criticizing a budget deal that would increase spending on defense while also slightly cutting the deficit, arguing that we shouldn’t give up the sequestration deal he initially opposed. And he’s the one complaining about the lack of “long-term thinking.”

I’ve said favorable things about Senator Rubio in the past. He’s a likeable figure, and often a persuasive one. But some worrisome patterns are emerging.

Senator Rubio voted against the Budget Control Act in 2011 that paved the path toward the sequester–and now he’s blasting a defensible, if far from perfect, deal by Representative Ryan and Senator Murray on the grounds that it undoes the sequester (which is a simplistic and incomplete argument in itself, for reasons I lay out here). And Senator Rubio showed a massive error in judgment in championing the effort to shut down the federal government if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t de-funded–a gambit that did absolutely no good and in fact inflicted a fair amount of harm on his party.

Senator Rubio strikes me as a person not only highly attuned to criticisms of him from the base, but overly reactive to them, adjusting and responding moment by moment. One senses that believing he badly hurt himself with the base because of his stand on immigration, he’s now scrambling to ingratiate himself with it. It isn’t a particularly impressive thing to watch.

Senator Rubio is young, talented, and, I think, has a lot to contribute to conservatism. But he might take to heart the words of St. Paul, who in the book of Ephesians warned about those “tossed like waves and blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

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Why the Budget Deal Deserves Conservative Support

Good grief. 

Reacting to the budget deal agreed to by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, Senator Rand Paul referred to it as “shameful.” Senator Ted Cruz informed us he found it to be “deeply concerning.” And Senator Marco Rubio said it would “make it harder for Americans to achieve the American dream.” 

So the geniuses who engineered the disastrous budget shutdown are now attacking an agreement that is  substantively defensible and politically wise.

To be sure, the budget deal is far from perfect. It doesn’t address the structural fiscal problems we face. But of course achieving such a thing is impossible so long as Barack Obama is president and Harry Reid is Senate majority leader. The issue is whether the deal is, on the margins, better than no deal. Answer: It is.

Basically the Ryan-Murray agreement allows minor increases in domestic discretionary spending in exchange for minor mandatory cuts in entitlement programs. To be specific: the deal gives back $63 billion over the next two years in domestic discretionary spending (including half of which goes for defense) in exchange for $85 billion in modest entitlement reforms over 10 years. The cuts are not as immediate as the spending increases–but they are cuts that are very likely to materialize and would not be easy to reverse. 

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Good grief. 

Reacting to the budget deal agreed to by Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray, Senator Rand Paul referred to it as “shameful.” Senator Ted Cruz informed us he found it to be “deeply concerning.” And Senator Marco Rubio said it would “make it harder for Americans to achieve the American dream.” 

So the geniuses who engineered the disastrous budget shutdown are now attacking an agreement that is  substantively defensible and politically wise.

To be sure, the budget deal is far from perfect. It doesn’t address the structural fiscal problems we face. But of course achieving such a thing is impossible so long as Barack Obama is president and Harry Reid is Senate majority leader. The issue is whether the deal is, on the margins, better than no deal. Answer: It is.

Basically the Ryan-Murray agreement allows minor increases in domestic discretionary spending in exchange for minor mandatory cuts in entitlement programs. To be specific: the deal gives back $63 billion over the next two years in domestic discretionary spending (including half of which goes for defense) in exchange for $85 billion in modest entitlement reforms over 10 years. The cuts are not as immediate as the spending increases–but they are cuts that are very likely to materialize and would not be easy to reverse. 

My Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague Yuval Levin, writing on NRO, makes the following points: Mandatory spending out-year cuts actually tend to go into effect, unlike discretionary spending out-year cuts, because mandatory programs remain in place since they are on auto-pilot. The Ryan-Murray deal would say that about 30 percent of the sequester over the next two years will be replaced with modest (and much more sensible) longer-term entitlement savings and other small reforms. Fully 70 percent of the sequester remains in place in this two years, and after those two years the entire sequester remains in place. And this is important to note, too: this proposed deal would put discretionary spending in 2014 and 2015, even with the temporary two-year increase in spending, below that of the first House Republican budget, which was passed in 2011 to the praise of conservatives. In addition, this deal prevents additional deep cuts to the Department of Defense, it doesn’t involve any increase in tax rates, and it restores the normal appropriations process (which will allow Congress to set priorities). And just for the sake of context: the $63 billion increase over two years amounts to less than nine-tenths of one percent of projected federal spending over that period.

Where Ryan did a huge favor for the GOP politically is striking a deal that avoids a government shutdown, which (as we saw last October) would only damage the Republican Party and the conservative cause, in part by deflecting attention away from the rolling disaster of ObamaCare.

The deal also takes into account political reality: It’s quite possible House Republicans–in part because of Republicans who are worried about deep cuts in defense, in part because of Republicans who want to spend more–might not have had the votes in their own conference to have kept the sequester in place. Ryan, knowing this, pushed for the best deal he could to keep limits on spending rather than have the whole thing fall apart later.

On substance this budget deal, even if one supports it, isn’t worth getting all that excited about. (Similarly, if one opposes it, it isn’t worth getting all that excited about.) But the GOP and the conservative cause are better served with it than without it. Which is why it deserves support.

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