Underwhelmed by Paul Ryan

Editorial

By Brian Kearsey

 

I have been underwhelmed with Rep Paul Ryan’s voting record and budget proposals for some time, but this issue of Imprimis, from the esteemed institution Hillsdale College, crystallized my stark differences with his concept of the oath of office that he swore on the Bible to uphold and his duties in Congress.

Ryan fleshes out a vision for America that offers many inspiring facets. He notes that the Constitution is “our guide and the Declaration our North Star” and that we must “sometimes coaxing, sometimes pushing” work back “toward the enduring principles to which we are dedicated.” He continues by sagely noting the practical reality that, “maneuvering in the sea of politics, we will sometimes be forced to tack – but must always be guided by and steer toward our fixed North Star.” He continues, lucidly cleaving federal programs into two contrasting groups with a “clear, bright line” separating them:

There is a difference in principle—a clear bright line—between two kinds of government programs. On the one hand, there are those that can be repaired and restructured within the bounds of limited government. Let’s review those, and seek to reform and upgrade them, making them more efficient through market mechanisms, more decentralized and transparent, more fiscally sound and more conducive to self-government.

On the other hand, some government programs require massive bureaucracies to direct large segments of our society and economy through arbitrary regulations that increase uncertainty and insecurity… More and more Americans are right to see these programs as threats to their freedom. They are incompatible with the American Idea, and they must be rejected…

Now, the Progressives were right about something: The country was crying out for a national safety net, especially following the Great Depression. Americans agreed that we should pool our resources to protect hardworking families. And yes, they wanted smart, talented people to run the federal government. But they didn’t want those smart, talented people to run their lives. They wanted to enlist the federal government in the service of self-government. They didn’t want to turn over the keys.

Progressives didn’t respect this distinction. Once they got their foot in the door, they kept pushing. First there was the New Deal, then the Fair Deal, then the Great Society. In 2008, they saw… their chance to cement the Progressive philosophy into place… If you liked Medicare, they said, you’ll love Obamacare…

Here’s the difference: Everybody understands the safety net, and everybody benefits from it. Take Social Security. We all know how it works—or at least how it’s supposed to work. When you’re working, you pay in. And when you’re retired, it pays out. It’s the same thing with Medicare—simple, straightforward. Everybody gets old. Everybody gets sick. And so everybody contributes in exchange for a secure retirement. Most people think that’s a fair trade. And I agree.

The Affordable Care Act is a completely different kind of program. Nobody understands it, and it makes everyone anxious…

Or take Dodd-Frank… Dodd–Frank protects the big guys—the biggest, most powerful financial institutions in the country… More insidious is that this law vastly expands the power of bureaucrats to take over the daily operations of any large financial institution they deem to be in trouble..

In short, the difference between the safety net and the Progressive bureaucracy is the difference between fair play and playing favorites.

The safety net jibes with self-government; the Progressive agenda does not. The safety net gives people more control over their lives, while the Progressive agenda takes that control away. And there’s a key underlying principle: The reason you have more control with the safety net is that you earned it. You paid in. You made the difference. That’s the very heart of self-government: We the people are the masters of our fate. We can improve our lot by dint of our own efforts—by working together of our own free will. Nobody has to force us or oversee us. Earned success and earned security go hand in hand.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Everything wasn’t hunky-dory until this president came to town. Social Security and Medicare have been going broke for years. Politicians have made promises they couldn’t keep, and the bill is about to come due. We conservatives must be committed to strengthening these programs—because that’s what hardworking taxpayers have expressed a desire for in election after election, and it is what they deserve. Limited government with popular consent is the principle we’re trying to uphold.

Every idea I’ve proposed would give people more control over their future…

I don’t wish to utter an idle word to disparage the honorable Representative – I’ve tracked down, swallowed, digested, and atoned for enough of those. He’s likely quite sincere, rather than deftly manipulating conservatives with sleight of words. But being sincere doesn’t make one right. Just because the nation was pummeled so mercilessly by the Depression[1] that Americans were “crying out” for Social Security and Medicare, and just because they understand how they are supposed to work does not make them Constitutional or wise; in fact, it is clear that they are both unconstitutional and unwise.

No worries. He'll pay the National Debt

No worries. He’ll pay the National Debt

Paul Ryan thinks these collectivist, nightmare programs are a “fair trade,” that they “jibe” with “self-government,” and that they give us “more control” we have “earned” without anybody having to “to force us.” I disagree on all counts. There is nothing “fair” about them and they sharply contrast with “self-government.” I hardly have “control” when forced to loan the federal government money to put in “Trust” for my future. And I can’t “control” the fact they spend the money to artificially reduce current deficits and use Orwellian doublespeak, pretending the IOU’s are an “investment” because they promise to tax our children enough to pay the debt back with interest! (Try telling your spouse you spent your retirement savings on a fling, but it’s an “investment” because you wrote yourself a promissory note to pay yourself back with interest!)

Paul Ryan understands that “Social Security and Medicare have been going broke for years” because “politicians have made promises they couldn’t keep.” Super! But his insights are worse than useless when his “solution” is to strengthen these programs “because that’s what hardworking taxpayers have expressed a desire for in election after election, and it is what they deserve.” He either refuses to see or willfully ignores the simple principle he himself articulates so eloquently a few paragraphs later:

Both big government and big business like to stack the deck in their favor… (and) are far too often allies. Bureaucrats favor big business over the upstarts. Large companies are more predictable—and easier to control. So government tips the scales in their favor… And big business is a willing accomplice—because regulation keeps the competition out. Many times, large corporations don’t oppose new regulations; indeed, they help write them. The point is, crony capitalism isn’t a side effect—it’s a direct result of big government.

How in the world can Ryan see that crony capitalism is a direct result of big government and in the very same missive endorse tempting the very same government with a trillion dollars a year in payroll taxes[2] Large, powerful central government, while a necessary evil, must be strictly bound by the chains of the Constitution precisely because it breeds corruption! “Force,” as Einstein reminds us, always “attracts men of low morality.” Government is nothing if not the legal use of force. When you allow the federal government to forcible collect over 15% of every single paycheck in America for Social Security and Medicare, the enormous ocean of endless money will always be a source of temptation that few politicians will be able to refuse. It is as simple as that!

I understand that many of the people, initially beaten to mental pulp by the Depression and dumbed down by generations of steadily expanding federal control of our schools (a trend Ryan wants to tweak, not abolish [3]) and the loss of the Living Christ in our churches. I understand that our republic is, as Ryan points out, based on “limited government with popular consent” and that a Representative must respect the fact that the Founders intended that the power flows from the people. But Ryan is like a parent not only instantly yielding to but encouraging a toddler’s out of control sweet-tooth without using any adult discernment, either because he is ignorant or because he is too comfortable enjoying the cruise to risk rocking the boat.

We need Congressmen who challenge people to use their intellects and reflect on the plethora of lessons, so many purchased at a horrific cost in treasure, sweat, and blood, that history has handed us. Edmund Burke, as skeptical of the rule of the mob (a.k.a. “democracy”) as the vast majority of learned men of his day, argued that a representative owed his constituents his own best judgment.

(I)t ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These… are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion…” excerpts from Edmund Burke on Duty of a Representative

JFK showed an interest in this topic. His thesis, published as Why England Slept, explored how British leaders in the 30’s yielded to their constituents and failed to prepare to fight Hitler. While recovering from back surgery in the 50’s he hired a researcher to help him till the same soil in the short book Profiles in Courage (audio download here). In the preface he writes about the ‘‘problems of political courage in the face of constituent pressures.’’ He provided quotes from the 1700, 1800, and 1900’s reflecting the same inherent struggle in our representative form of government to produce representatives who will lead the populace with wisdom rather than be dragged into the gutter by the base passions of the voters. Here are excerpts:

Senators, we hear, must be politicians–and politicians must be concerned only with winning votes, not with statesmanship or courage… Walter Lippmann, after nearly half a century of careful observation, rendered in his recent book a harsh judgment both on the politician and the electorate:

‘With exceptions so rare they are regarded as miracles of nature, successful democratic politicians are insecure and intimidated men. They advance politically only as they placate, appease, bribe, seduce, bamboozle, or otherwise manage to manipulate the demanding threatening elements in their constituencies. The decisive consideration is not whether the proposition is good but whether it is popular-not whether it will work well and prove itself, but whether the active-talking constituents like it immediately…

Kennedy also explores the internal pressures on Congressmen to yield to the will of the mob on the Hill, though the need to work together and compromise is very real. Explaining how Congressmen are human, he writes:

(We) enjoy the comradeship and approval of our friends and colleagues. We prefer praise to abuse, popularity to contempt. Realizing that the path of the conscientious insurgent must frequently be a lonely one, we are anxious to get along with our fellow legislators, our fellow members of the club, to abide by the clubhouse rules and patterns, not to pursue a unique and independent course which would embarrass or irritate the other members. We realize, moreover, that our influence in the club-and the extent to which we can accomplish our objectives and those of our constituents–are dependent in some measure on the esteem with which we are regarded by other Senators. “The way to get along,” I was told when I entered Congress, “is to go along.”

Conclusion – and Note of Optimism to End On

Until someone can provide another perspective in light of my grave concerns, it is my firm impression that with “leadership” such as Ryan offers, our republic is destined to continue its steady current course following the trail Rome blazed into decline, complete with the massive debt that empire abroad and bread and circuses at home demand. Yet there are many reasons for optimism. The first is that the average conservative is finally afraid, and fear is exactly what we need to rouse the voters. The task now is to educate them so that they can demand more from their Reps than most currently offer. I’ll end by turning again to JFK, in his same short book. While acknowledging the pressures on Congressmen, he fleshed out the bright side as well, giving a nod to all the Ron Paul’s who swim against the tide:

(A)fter nearly ten years of living and working in the midst of ‘successful democratic politicians’… I am convinced that the complication of public business and the competition for the public’s attention have obscured innumerable acts of political courage-large and small–performed almost daily in the Senate Chamber. I am convinced that the decline-if there has been a decline-has been less in the Senate than in the public’s appreciation of the art of politics, of the nature and necessity for compromise and balance, and of the nature of the Senate as a legislative chamber. And, finally, I am convinced that we have criticized those who have followed the word and at the same time criticized those who have defied it because we have not fully understood the responsibility of a Senator to his constituents or recognized the difficulty facing a politician conscientiously desiring, in Webster’s words, “to push [his] skiff from the shore alone” in a hostile and turbulent sea. Perhaps if the American people more fully comprehended the terrible pressures which discourage acts of political courage, which drive a Senator to abandon or subdue his conscience, then they might be less critical of those who take the easier road-and more appreciative of those still able to follow the path of courage.

[1] The Depression was created by the same cabal of Congress, the Fed, and Wall Street that created our current economic morass. Congress used lies and deception to create the Fed in 1913 (see this essay when I have a website); shortly after the Fed greased the skids of war for the dual benefit of the politicians and merchants of death in the war industry (read here for a first-hand account by a highly decorated General), the Fed inflated the Bubble that we know of as the Roaring 20’s. As we learned again in the Dot.com, Housing, and Credit Bubbles inflated by the Fed, what goes up must come down, and the higher up it goes, the harder it crashes.

[2] Payroll taxes go directly to cover Ryan’s pet “safety net” programs, Social Security and Medicare; as of 2010 they totaled 40% of all revenue collected, second only to payroll taxes. Source: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/briefing-book/background/numbers/revenue.cfm

[3] King George did a 180 degree about-face, and instead of abolishing the federal involvement as the GOP had at least pretended to want to do since its inception in 1979, tried fixing our schools from DC. Clinton came along, rearranged some chairs on the federal deck, and doubled down on that effort. When both failed, King George II doubled down again and left no child’s behind unprobed by federal proctologists. Acknowledging the failure of that “unprecedented” level of federal spending and power to improve our schools, Paul Ryan proposed reforming – not abolishing! – the grossly unconstitutional, cancerous boondoggle! (source: http://www.ontheissues.org/house/Paul_Ryan_Education.htm ) The fact is that despite all the rhetoric about local control – rhetoric both Bushes and Ryan use in copious amounts – federal money breeds strings!

Brian Kearsey

Brian Kearsey

Brian Kearsey is a well respected educator and founder of Crossroads, a private school. Kearsey, a former resident of Simi Valley California,  now resides in Kent New York with his family.

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