The Poverty of Paul Ryan’s Vision

The 125th post from the Journal of American Greatness originally published in June, 2016.


Is Paul Ryan trying to prove to us that he’s every bit as out-of-touch as we fear?

We’re a little late to this but we think it’s still relevant. The other day, the Speaker announced (with a heavy heart) that he would vote for Trump. But he also indicated that his political strategy for the House is vaguely Gingrich-esque: pretend as though there are no other branches of government (certainly not an unwanted nominee of his own party) and try to govern in isolation. It didn’t work for Newt and won’t work for Ryan.

It’s certainly far less likely to work considering the central issue he’s chosen: poverty. Now, we’ve said before—but it’s worth repeating—that a lot, perhaps most, of the reformicon domestic policy ideas are worth pursuing. Especially if we do get a Republican administration that has to fill the 8,000 or so Schedule C and related positions in the Plum Book. All those people are going to need something to do and a blueprint by which to do it.  It’s better if they work from a good blueprint than a bad one. The President won’t be able to give personal direction on every aspect of policy but only to set a general direction and (hopefully) get his people moving on an agenda that his campaign had already laid out in some detail. One of our concerns about the Trump campaign, incidentally, is that they haven’t done this and don’t seem to be interested in doing it.

But the Trump campaign is vastly superior to Ryan in its core understanding of the core issues most urgent right now. Every new President can focus on three, at most four, such issues. Trump seems to have three: secure borders, economic nationalism, and interests-based foreign policy. We can have a debate about whether those are the most urgent issues just now. Indeed, the whole campaign may be said to be such a debate. We’ll see who wins.

Obviously, we at JAG think these are the most urgent issues just now. Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t. But does anyone—other than Paul Ryan—believe that developing a new poverty policy is the most urgent issue right now? Perhaps Jack Kemp’s ghost?

The poor will always be with us, sayeth the Lord, and a decent society should do what it can alleviate their poverty in ways that are non-corrupting and that promote their industry. But a sound anti-poverty agenda should address the core issues that are driving politics right now—in part because those issues bear directly on poverty.  Prudent political leaders (at the moment, that would be Trump and … ?) should also look for ways not to import or create more poverty, through stupid immigration, trade and economic policies. Keeping the borders open and the outsourcing flowing are at the heart of Paul Ryan’s overall political program. Both are, not incidentally, guaranteed to increase poverty in America. Does Ryan on one level know this, and that’s why he finds fighting poverty so urgent? Is he the political equivalent of a drug dealer calling for more treatment programs?

More likely he’s just so hard over for Kempism and Rawls’ “difference principle” that he can’t see past his own nose. Figures as diverse as Ronald Reagan and Stephen Hawking have speculated on the effects of an extraterrestrial invasion of earth. At least they agree that, in such an eventuality, the human priority would be self-defense. Paul Ryan, on the other hand, would doubtless be in his office putting the finishing touches on his latest Compassionate Conservative anti-poverty bill as the little green men with lasers surrounded the Capitol.

We liked Ryan in 2012—until he got his clock cleaned by Joe Biden.  That was kind of embarrassing.  Even today, we give him credit for a having a keen domestic policy mind.  But statesmanship transcends policy.  The most urgent necessity right now is not innovative domestic policy or more conservative box-checking—and certainly not more Kempism.  It is the Greatness Agenda.

The words “Trump” and “statesmanship” probably do not, to most people, appear to belong in the same dictionary.  They even look a little funny, there next to each other, to us.  But we ask again: what does it say about the Republican leadership and the conservative brain trust that it took Donald Trump to finger the three most salient issues in the most important election in a generation?  More important, what does it say that—now that it’s been plain for six months at least that Trump has identified the right issues—the Republicans and conservatives, rather than acknowledge reality, are all scurrying back to their same old, well-worn intellectual and political ruts?

—Decius

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