Paul Ryan: The Right or Wrong Man?

Paul Ryan's taking the weekend to mull running for U.S. House speaker.  He could take the job if he wants it.  But is he the guy for the job?

Ryan, once a rising star among conservatives, has settled in comfortably with D.C.'s Republican establishment.  He chairs the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.  He looks good on camera, is personable, and can be articulate.  So what's the problem? 

Ryan – like McCarthy, like Boehner, like Hastert (yes, he who's in disrepute) – may be a man better suited for another time – say, the 1950s or 1960s (up to when all hell broke loose).  You know, in the days of Pax Liberalcana (or some such).

Ryan once went toe to toe with Barack Obama over health care reform.  You remember the White House conference.  It was Ryan's shining moment.  He came out of that match the winner.  Good stuff.    

But then there was Ryan the 2012 GOP VP nominee.  The lackluster Mitt Romney must have sprinkled bland powder into Ryan's Ovaltine.  Recall – however painfully – Joe Biden eating Ryan's lunch during the 90-minute veep debate.  Ryan came across as a wide-eyed schoolboy being browbeaten by his cranky old uncle. 

The "Be polite to your elders" tack, doubtless counseled by D.C.'s overpaid crack GOP consultants, worked like a charm – for Biden.  You see, Biden wasn't endearing, but he looked resolved, strong.  Voters may not like SOBs – and may deny they do in focus groups – but they want leaders who have SOB streaks.  The mean-spirited and oft-creepy Biden came off like a guy with the grit to crack heads and run the store, while Ryan looked like he couldn't win a slapping contest with Putin's then wife Lyudmila.

Then there's Paul Ryan, Mr. Federal Budget.  To Ryan's credit, he puts forward budgets that make runs at cutting federal spending, reducing national debt, and closing deficits over time (a 10-year period, per his 2015 proposal).  He block-grants.  He seeks to repeal Obamacare.  He's called for Social Security and other entitlement reform. 

Ryan's passion is for budgeting.  Running the Ways and Means Committee is no small task.  His wonkishness seems a good fit for the world of budget-making.  It explains, along with his family commitments, why Ryan is reluctant to leave his post.  The speakership is on an entirely different plane, operationally and politically.  It calls for talents, skills, and savvy that not only encompass, but surpass what a committee chairman needs.  Ryan's elevation to the speakership could prove a Peter Principle moment.

Ryan's pro-immigration reform.  As speaker, Ryan would be smart politically not to try to pass an immigration reform measure in 2016.  There are enough cheap-labor RINOs and vote-harvesting Democrats to push legislation through.  But doing so in a highly charged presidential election year would rupture the GOP – irreparably.  Yet would a Speaker Ryan make a go at amnesty legislation in 2017, provided Republicans hold the House next year, and depending on who's president?  Making illegals legal even then would blow up the GOP.

Once upon a time, the nation operated under something near a liberal consensus.  Liberalism hadn't yet compiled an impressive record of failure, at home and abroad, inciting a widespread grassroots conservative movement, one that culminated in Goldwater, Reagan, and the Gingrich years.  It's a movement that continues today with renewed vigor.  Once there were establishment liberals like Scoop Jackson, Ed Muskie, Sam Rayburn, and Jack Kennedy, who, more often than not, kept a leftist like Bernie Sanders on a short leash. 

But those days are long gone.  Leftists are now mainstream among Democrats.  Among Democrats are a lot of opportunists, who build careers and cash paychecks off big government.  Growing the state benefits ideologues and opportunists.  And yes, there are establishment Republicans glad to go along for the ride.

Ryan isn't one of them.  Nothing suggests that Ryan is cynical or that he's just about his career and bank account.  He's honest and earnest, but he's earnestly establishment.  That's his problem.  That's the GOP's problem.  The nation's reality has shifted in fundamental – and perilous – ways.  The left is relentlessly assaulting liberty.  The fear is that Ryan, like his establishment allies, fails to appreciate the danger.

There's a great and growing divide in the nation.  American Thinker contributor Steve McCann writes that the nation is "discontented" in ways not seen since 1932.  But that discontent may actually be greater, and it includes a divide that surpasses the cleavages of Roosevelt's 1930s.  The divides are greater than those of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America, with industrialization and Eastern European immigration.

In those times, Americans, regardless of politics, found common ground in culture, morals, and faith.  Less and less so today.  The left works to upend and degrade culture, makes mush of morality, and denigrate faith, seeking to subordinate it to "rights" vigorously enforced by the state.  The left seeks to use the state to radically "transform" critical aspects of the nation.  The left is totalitarian in character.

With Paul Ryan, are the man and the moment – so greatly historic – a match?  Perhaps Ryan has deeper qualities and a passion for liberty not fully expressed.  Perhaps he'd be a leader who rises from the conventional to be unconventional, special.  It happens.  But perhaps not.          

House conservatives shouldn't fold in the face of arguments that a bona fide conservative can't win the speakership.  If Ryan's not the guy, fight.  The moment calls for tenacity and daring.  

If Freedom Caucus conservatives can't settle on one of their own – or one of their own won't step forward – to run for speaker, then aim for the historic.  Find a strong conservative outside the House to champion as speaker.  Push the envelope.  Leverage the chance to capture imaginations and advance a vision for America.  Extract concessions from the Republican Conference.  Make the moment count, and to liberty's favor.