Paul Ryan Is Neither a Hero nor Villain of Conservatism

By Klein, Philip | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, October 22, 2015 | Go to article overview

Paul Ryan Is Neither a Hero nor Villain of Conservatism


Klein, Philip, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


Ever since Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was floated as a potential candidate to succeed Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as speaker of the House, it's had a polarizing effect on the Right.

The prospect of Speaker Ryan has pitted those who portray him as some sort of enemy against conservatism against those who try to defend him as an unimpeachable conservative icon.

In reality, neither of these views capture who Ryan is. In the many interviews I've conducted with Ryan over the years, what's been clear is that he is philosophically conservative and passionate about trying to translate abstract limited government principles into tangible policy solutions.

But at the same time, he's proved a willingness to be a loyal soldier and go along with the party, which at times has forced him to compromise on conservative ideas.

Ryan backed Social Security reform both before and after it was cool. He ran on reform in his first race for Congress in 1998, despite being in a swing congressional district. And he was still pushing for Social Security personal accounts well after President Bush's 2005 effort went down in flames and even many proponents gave up in the wake of the 2008 financial markets crash.

Yet Ryan also went along with many of Bush's decisions that inflamed limited government conservatives, such as his support for the Medicare prescription drug plan and Wall Street bailout.

Speaking to Ryan in 2010, I pressed him on why he cast such votes even though they contradict limited government principles -- and his answers provide a window into how he might approach making his case to reluctant conservatives on tough votes in the job of speaker.

"You don't get to take the vote you want in Congress," Ryan lamented to me. "Sometimes you have to take votes that you don't want to take, but they're the best of the two choices."

Bush, he said, notified him that if the House version of the Medicare drug bill didn't pass, the administration would have pushed the Senate bill, which did not include free market provisions such as health savings accounts. "That was the choice he gave us," he says. "It was not a choice I liked."

Had the Wall Street bailout not passed, he said he feared that a resulting economic collapse would have paved the way for another New Deal.

Based purely on this, it would be easy to portray him as just another Republican who came to Washington and got corrupted. Voting for the massive Wall Street bailout and for the largest expansion of entitlements since the Great Society is difficult to swallow from a limited government perspective. …

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