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“A Conversion On Political Rhetoric”: The Fascinating Political Evolution Of Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan’s new book The Way Forward is meant to be bought, not read.

You buy a book like this because you’re in a conservative book club, or you’re a big Paul Ryan fan, and you feel obliged. It’s like voting, but it costs money. Publishers commission these books hoping to get a big payoff if and when the author is nominated for president and suddenly a much larger share of the country feels obliged to vote, er, buy Ryan.

But there’s more to The Way Forward than that, largely because Ryan is an increasingly important and intriguing figure in Republican politics. His persona evolves — often, it seems — in tandem with the felt-needs of the GOP. Ryan has always been a little further to the right than the average elected Republican. But that didn’t stop him from corralling votes for Medicare Part-D when George W. Bush needed them. Then when the GOP constituents needed someone who looked good under a green eyeshade, he became a much sterner budget watcher, and strenuous fiscal conservative.

The first half of the Ryan book is a biography as starched and colorless as his collars. But the second half of The Way Forward is fascinating. It gives a view of what Ryan wants to be now and over the next two years, possibly as he contemplates a run for the presidency. And make no mistake: Ryan is transformed.

No longer is Paul Ryan the P90X-ripping, budget-slashing devotee of Ayn Rand that Democrats gleefully caricatured as someone who wanted to push grandma off a cliff. Today he’s the geeky white guy dancing badly at a black church, and then biting his lip and nodding to signal how much he is listening, and learning. He’s putting in an effort to expand his horizons personally. He is undergoing a political conversion, or at least a conversion on political rhetoric.

Quite literally, Paul Ryan experiences a kind of Come-To-Frank-Luntz moment when someone asks him who he is talking about when he refers to some people as “takers.” Ryan had in the past adopted the language of “makers and takers” to describe people who are paying more in taxes than they receive in benefits, and people who are receiving more benefits than what they pay. Ryan says this language was just in the air at the time he adopted it. And it was. A Nation of Takers was the scorching title to a sobering (and sober) book by Nicholas Eberstadt about the shape of America’s entitlement state. Eberstadt’s book is exactly the kind of doomsday look into the spreadsheets that Ryan was getting into then.

Today, Ryan won’t disavow the math, exactly, but he has discarded the implied insult he attached to it.

[W]hile the problem it depicts is real and worrisome, the phrase “makers and takers” communicated a lot more than just the dilemma I was trying to describe. That day at the fair was the first time I really heard the way it sounded. As I stood there, listening to the guy from the Democrats’ tent lay into me, I thought, “Holy cow. He’s right.” [The Way Forward]

Ryan also talks about his experiences of reaching out to constituencies where there aren’t many Republicans. In what is probably the most substantive political point in the book, Ryan says what many already suspect, that the 2012 election proved that “focusing heavily on simply turning out our traditional coalition is a losing strategy.”

Ryan does what a politician in this position should do — he takes his lumps just by showing up for constituent events among people who are not naturally aligned to him. Black constituents often tell him to his face that they disagree with him. “[A]t least they were telling me, personally, instead of just some pollster canvassing the neighborhood,” he writes. He says that these events communicate that a person who has conservative politics can still care enough to show up and talk to minority constituents.

This is the right thing politically, but it’s also the right thing to do, period. The GOP should follow Ryan’s example. It would be good for the country. Citizens deserve the competition for their votes that gerrymandering and polarization deny. No major party should effectively ignore an entire demographic or geographic group of Americans.

Now, there are no great revelations in this book. It’s filled with easy-to-understand anecdotes about the malfunctioning of the health-care system before and after ObamaCare, and the efficiency of market-oriented solutions. These will be repeated many, many times by Ryan in the medium-term of his political life.

Ryan also repeats Jack Kemp’s name over and over again, almost as much as he does Reagan’s. Kemp was a Republican who worked hard to make GOP principles appealing to urban and minority voters. He was HUD secretary under George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole’s vice presidential candidate. Kemp is an odd figure, combining the supply-side politics of a Dan Quayle with the social idealism of a George Romney. He referred to himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative.”

And a bleeding-heart conservative sounds great in theory. In a way, it’s what George W. Bush attempted with his “compassionate conservative” brand. But Kemp was never really a national figure, and his unique policy ideas never really got purchase among their supposed beneficiaries. He was admired more than followed. He made Republicans feel better about themselves, without winning great victories. Maybe the time is ripe for a return to Kempism. But I have my doubts.


By: Michael Brendan Dougherty, The Week, August 21, 2014

August 22, 2014 Posted by | Paul Ryan, Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Love You To Death”: Republicans Saving Souls Through The Destruction Of The Body

You, liberal reader, probably think of Ted Cruz as this vicious neo-McCarthyite crank who is raging around Washington threatening not so much Democrats as the imaginary RINOs who control his political party.

But the image he’s projecting to his fellow-conservatives, and that he’d like the GOP to project nationally, is very different: he’s a sweet huggy-bear who thinks Republicans lose elections because–I know this is hard to believe, but it’s true–people perceive that they don’t care about less-fortunate people. That’s gotta change, Cruz recently explained in Miami at the Cuban-Democracy PAC luncheon, via the Florida conservative blog The Shark Tank:

I think why Republicans did so poorly in the Hispanic community this last election was not primarily immigration, I think it was two words- 47 percent. And by that I don’t mean that unfortunate comment… What I mean is the narrative of the last election. The 47% percent who are dependent on government- we don’t have to worry about them. I can’t think of an idea that is more antithetical to what we believe as conservatives and Americans than that idea.

“Republicans did a poor job last time around…is making the case to the single mom, making the case to the young African American, the young Hispanic coming out of school looking for his first job that the party of opportunity is a party that allows and encourages small businesses to thrive and encourages economic growth.”

You hear this a lot from conservatives. The I’m-with-the-rich-because-I-love-the-poor rap is a hardy perennial that was bequeathed to the Right by the late Jack Kemp, who probably actually believed it. One of Kemp’s proteges, a guy named Paul Ryan, spoke at the Jack Kemp Foundation dinner in December, and justified his screw-the-poor budget policies as a deeper form of agape love for those who had been failed by the welfare state. Here’s a taste from the deep well of his compassion:

Not every problem disappears through the workings of the free market alone. Americans are a compassionate people. And there’s a consensus in this country about our obligations to the most vulnerable. Those obligations are beyond dispute. The real debate is how best we can meet them. It’s whether they are better met by private groups or by government – by voluntary action or by government action.

I like that. Not every economic or social problem can be ignored because the Market Knows Best. Some people may need help in the form of “voluntary action!” Let’s hear it for charity!

What’s never been clear to me is whether this Empowerment Conservative rhetoric is ultimately designed to appeal to poor and minority folk (if so, it’s failed dismally over the decades), to the news media, or to the tender consciences of conservatives themselves. Some media folk seem to find it a revelation whenever Republicans don’t look and sound like Daddy Warbucks, which is why Kemp always got such good press, and probably why the people surrounding George W. Bush thought “compassionate conservatism” was such a great marketing slogan.

What’s interesting about the version of this pseudo-ideology being embraced by Ryan and Cruz is that there is not one ounce of the old moderate-Republican noblesse oblige in it, with its compromises with the welfare state on behalf of the little people. No, for these new Empowerers love for the poor isn’t genuine unless it involves the full, ruthless destruction of the public support that has enslaved everyone dependent on it. They kind of remind me of the medieval priests who viewed the killing of heretics as the supreme act of charity, saving souls through the destruction of the body.

So it’s probably more a salve to their own (and their supporters’) consciences than a marketing tactic for people like Ryan and Cruz to promote their policy views as pretty much what Jesus would support if he were a Member of Congress. If it becomes necessary to love the poor to death, they’re up to the task.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 12, 2013

March 13, 2013 Posted by | GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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