Representative Paul Ryan’s speech to the Heritage Foundation earlier today once again demonstrated that he is, among elected public officials, the foremost intellectual defender of American conservatism.

In this particular case, Ryan offered a thorough rebuttal to President Obama’s (relentless) effort to stoke class division in America. Ryan said what needed to be said, which is that “the president has opted for divisive rhetoric and the broken politics of the past. He is going from town to town, impugning the motives of Republicans, setting up straw men and scapegoats, and engaging in intellectually lazy arguments, as he tries to build support for punitive tax hikes on job creators.” Ryan also sets the record straight on Obama’s efforts to misappropriate Ronald Reagan and has a word or two to say about Warren Buffett and his secretary.

But Ryan went beyond simply that, pointing out that the House budget, passed in April, was full of proposals to get rid of corporate welfare and crony capitalism and spur economic growth. He made the case for why equality of outcome is itself a form of inequality (it creates a system based on political influence and bureaucratic favoritism). He made a moral defense of capitalism, pointing out that it has done far more to help the poor than any other economic system ever devised. And he made the (Lincolnian) case for upward mobility, for the idea that all citizens have the right to rise.

Ryan is doing what Ronald Reagan did better than any politician in my lifetime, which is to provide a philosophical framework and intellectual justification for conservatism; to anchor our ideas in history, human anthropology, and to the way the world works. There is an admirable seriousness of purpose in this effort, an understanding that in the end what is ennobling about politics isn’t power per se but the ideas and ideals that animate politics. It strikes me that we could use much more of this from public officials at every level, including those who are now running for president.


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