The Deeply Unserious Paul Ryan

The Deeply Unserious Paul Ryan August 16, 2012

There’s an interesting narrative developing on the naming of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate, even on the part of many liberal commentators. He’s being hailed as a Deeply Serious Man, an Important Thinker who will bring our attention to the necessity of fiscal discipline. Take Will Saletan of Slate, who writes:

A wonderful thing has happened for this country. Paul Ryan will be the Republican nominee for vice president.

Ryan is a real fiscal conservative. He isn’t just another Tea-Party ideologue spouting dogma about less government and the magic of free enterprise. He has actually crunched the numbers and laid out long-term budget proposals. My liberal friends point out that Ryan’s plan leaves many details unclear. That’s true. But show me another Republican who has addressed the nation’s fiscal problems as candidly and precisely as Ryan has. He’s got the least detailed budget proposal out there, except for all the others…

It speaks enormously well for Romney that he made this choice. It tells me he’d run the country the same way he ran Massachusetts: as a prudent, numbers-oriented businessman.

Ryan may not help Romney win this election. For the reasons given above, he may actually hurt the ticket. And there’s a good argument to be made—which Democrats surely will make—that Ryan’s emphasis on austerity is a bad fit for a weak economy. But Ryan’s ideas are important for the future. As the recovery proceeds, we’ll move out of a context in which stimulus made sense, and toward a context in which reining in deficits and debt becomes more essential. We’ll need more attention to those traditional Republican principles. We’ll need more voters, especially young voters, who value those principles. We’ll need a generation that thinks like Paul Ryan.

And then there’s Jacob Weisberg, who hails Ryan as providing the real substance that Romney will need.

Introducing his running mate against the backdrop of the USS Wisconsin on Saturday, Mitt Romney flubbed his easiest line. “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States,” he declared. There is no way to avoid reading this as a Freudian slip. Romney’s chief problem as a candidate has been his substantive vacuity, his failure to stand for anything beyond flexibility itself. In choosing Paul Ryan, he opted to outsource the content of his campaign to his opposite: a principled, conservative idea man. Ryan is now the head of the Republican ticket, Romney the body.

All of this is nonsense. Ryan is nothing even remotely like a “principled, conservative idea man.” His votes in favor of Medicare Part D and TARP and for trillions of dollars in unjustified war spending prove that to be true. He has proven himself quite willing to jettison his stated principles for party loyalty. Nor has he laid out anything approaching serious long term budget proposals. You simply cannot call yourself a champion of fiscal responsibility if you’re going to seriously argue for cutting trillions of dollars in federal revenue while raising defense spending. You cannot be considered a serious fiscal thinker if you’ve already ruled out tax increases for anyone other than the poorest Americans and demand astonishing tax cuts for the rich. If that is your plan, you’re not a deep thinker, you’re a partisan hack.

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