This post is the third in a three post series. Click for part one and part two.
Though the press has made much of the notion that Paul Ryan is a “conservative of the libertarian kind,” I actually believe just the opposite. Within the Republican Party there are two competing ideologies: traditional conservatism emphasizing fiscal temperance and constrained government on the one side, and neo-conservatism with an emphasis on social legislation and foreign influence on the other. I believe not only that Paul Ryan is firmly in the camp of the neo-conservatives, but also that he is the pivotal figure in the neo-conservative metapmorphosis of the Republican Party. In my view, the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate is an indication that the neo-conservatives believe that their transformation of the Republican Party is assured and they are ready to challenge the Democrats on their own turf: Establishing, Embracing and Controlling Big Government.
The real tell that this is the moment the neo-conservatives have been building toward can be seen by comparing the plan as laid out by Irving Kristol in a 1976 essay that appears in his book, Neoconservatism, The Autobiography of an Idea, to the language being used in the Republican press and other media outlets.
From Kristol’s book:
[The Republican Party must] realize that its first priority is to shape the budget, not to balance it. Then it could go to the electorate with the proper political questions: How do you want the budget balanced? By more taxes for more governmental services? Or by lower taxes, lower governmental expenditures and incentives for the citizen to provide for his own welfare.
Obviously there is some risk in such a bold approach. The budget, for a while, would indeed be in a perilous condition if some such Republican programs were passed while Democratic programs were not cut back. But that is the only way to permit the American people to choose their future—by making the choice, not only a clear cut one, but a necessary one.
Unless and until the Republican party is willing to overcome its book-keeping inhibitions and become a truly political party, it will be of only marginal significance which faction is in control, or which candidate it proposes. (p. 348)
Indeed, the Republicans have begun to deliver the conservative welfare state with such programs as Medicare D and No Child Left Behind, along with plenty of other programs such as stimulus, TARP and endless war, which, piled on top of the Democrat’s welfare state, stimulus and endless war has inevitably, and we see, intentionally, brought the budget into Kristol’s hoped-for “perilous condition.” This state of affairs has made the choice the “necessary one” engineered by Kristol. Paul Ryan, who can truly articulate the economic and psychological superiority of the “conservative welfare state,” has been chosen to frame the debate between the two statist paradigms.
The language that is now used in the Republican press to describe the significance of Paul Ryan’s candidacy reveals how closely this play is following Kristol’s script.
Gerald Seib of The Wall Street Journal describes Paul Ryan’s early days in Washington when he joined Empower America as Ryan joining in a battle “between the so-called green eyeshade crowd, which emphasized balancing the budget above all else…On the other side stood those who thought economic growth rather than deficit reduction should be the goal.” As if government deficit spending were the only way to generate growth. For those of you who have not been paying attention: this is NOT a libertarian or Austrian economic idea, nor is it fiscally conservative; it’s Keynesian by definition.
Furthermore, this new crowd believed, according to Seib, that “some social programs were well worth funding, especially if they provide minorities and young Americans a path up.” So not only did they abandon fiscal conservatism, but they embraced social engineering!
You may not mind this new conservatism and agree that social programs and social engineering are the purview of the federal government–you are entitled to your opinion and your vote, but please, don’t call it libertarianism or ask me to. Libertarians of all colors and ages don’t want to be socially engineered, they don’t want to be controlled, they don’t want to be manipulated and forced into making choices that others, even a majority, deem socially desirable if the individual himself does not wish to make that choice.
Hinting that this election is the moment of Kristol’s “necessary choice,” Karl Rove noted that, “By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney signaled his belief that the race is about big ideas–putting America’s fiscal house in order and renewing prosperity by cutting the deficit, reforming the tax code and saving the social safety net (emphasis added).”
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, who hired Ryan at Empower America, is more explicit. He explains that the selection of Mr. Ryan offers voters a choice: “Are welfare services a safety net or can they breed dependency? Is Medicare a social contract with the elderly, or unsustainable and in need of repair?” The choice, that is, between the welfare state as we know it, or the new, “conservative welfare state.”
Obama also knows that this is the moment the neo-cons have been waiting for, and he may well relish it. Perhaps he believes the choice is not quite ripe: the budget crisis, while looming, has not really hit home to voters, many of whom are still waiting at the mailbox for their checks and getting them. Obama does however recognize the significance of the choice: the neo-cons have brought the game to him and have challenged him to hang on to the ideological monopoly the Democrats have had on the welfare state. As Romney said in introducing Romneycare to Massachusetts not so long ago: “Issues which have long been the province of the Democratic Party to claim as their own will increasingly move to the Republican side of the aisle.” And so they have.
Obama in turn said of Ryan as VP nominee, “More than any other election, this is a choice about two different visions for the country, for two different directions of where the country should go.” Obama understands that this is the stand-off and Ryan understands it too. But it’s a stand-off between the now entrenched welfare state of almost a century and a new, “conservative welfare state,” not a showdown between socialism and libertarianism.
Please, don’t get me wrong: I do not want Obama to win in November. But nor do I want Romney, or Ryan for that matter. The real choice for libertarians and traditional conservatives was in the primaries, but the Republican establishment from Congressman to commentator to caucus committee chair made darn sure that Ron Paul didn’t have a chance. Now that he’s been done away with, we libertarians are supposed to applaud Romney’s choice of a libertarian-talking neo-con and be happy that at least they’re paying lip-service to us. Well, I don’t like being railroaded, and I’m not fooled by Ryan’s worn-out copy of Atlas Shrugged. Thanks but no thanks, lip-service just isn’t enough. I for one am going to keep calling my neo-cons neo-cons and stick to my strict diet of liberty.