Why is the impending departure of House Speaker Paul Ryan from politics such a momentous occasion? It has a lot to do with the type of thinking he represents, and has taken over the conservative movement. The type of thinking that says, “anything can be true if you just repeat it enough.”
As a liberal, it would be a natural position for me to look at the body of Paul Ryan’s, my hometown congressman’s, work and declare it a failure simply because he disagrees with my world view. Yes, I think his ideas were terrible, but…that’s not it.
Paul Ryan’s ideas were terrible because they were entirely unworkable and dishonest, and he got caught.
Let’s look at his Tax Cut and Jobs Act that he takes credit for ushering through Congress this past December.
Paul Ryan’s tax bill will generate between $1 and $1.3 trillion dollars worth of red ink. That’s not “how much this bill will cost,” it is “how much it will cost that is not paid for.”
But what’s Ryan’s take? “I don’t think [the tax bill] will increase the deficit,” Ryan is quoted telling reporters. “I’m telling you, that’s what I believe will happen.”
That’s…a big miss.
It’s especially big for a person who made a career complaining about debt and deficits.
Or take his now-infamous American Health Care Act of 2017.
The promise of Paul Ryan’s conservative attempt to reform health care is that it would cost less, provide better care to more people, provide more choice, and involve less government intervention.
It did one of those.
Ultimately, 23 million fewer Americans were projected to have health coverage; current Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies would be reduced meaning, no matter what happened to premiums, policyholders would pay more out of pocket; choices would be about the same as a best-case scenario; fewer items would be covered by insurance, but at least it meant government did less in the health care market versus the ACA…which may or may not be beneficial.
Here is what I’m really getting at: Conservatives, as led by Paul Ryan and his Randian-style philosophy, have convinced themselves that they can actually have their cake and eat it too.
Paul Ryan wants you to believe that you can have amazing health care, a permanently booming economy, top-notch infrastructure, amazing research and technology, the world’s best defense, all while paying next to nothing in taxes and having zero government involvement in the marketplace.
That’s just nonsense.
As strange as it may be for a liberal like me to say, conservatives need to either start following Joe Scarborough and his political inspiration, Edmund Burke…or fold up camp and just become full-bore libertarians.
Either way, a philosophy that requires you to just make things up and hope you never get called on to fulfill the promises you made isn’t just irresponsible governing, it is not even a good way to get ahead at politics…as conservatives are finding out now.
The departure of Paul Ryan, not just as Speaker of the House, but as a member of Congress, is a great opportunity for conservatism to save itself. Just throw Ryan under the bus, blame the whole mess on him (you would not be wrong in doing so), and tell America you promise to find your scruples again.
As much as I disagree with conservatism, we need it functioning in an honest, reality-focused way in order to have a good debate on the future of our nation. All these promises of tax cuts that pay for themselves, spending cuts that don’t hurt, health care plans that provide great care at low low prices, and even military invasions where we will be greeted with flowers and sweets…it has to stop.
I don’t know who the torch carrier for the resurrection of conservatism will, or even should, be. However, if people want conservatism to continue being part of the political conversation in this country, someone needs to.
And now is the time to stand up.