In Defense of Paul Ryan

Throughout the early 2000’s, it seemed as if Congressman Paul Ryan was the only politician on Capitol Hill

Who was trying to reform Social Security.

The bloated program was long considered a third rail for political types—whoever touched it would go down in flames. President George W. Bush’s plan to just slightly reform Social Security was defeated and he suffered political damage in the process.

Paul Ryan continued to fight a lonely battle, knowing that the math doesn’t lie. In 1945, about 42 American workers supported every retiree. By 2010, the number was down to about three workers per retiree. The number is expected to sink to two workers per retiree by 2020. This burden is increasingly crushing the American taxpayer and, eventually, the only way to sustain the program will be to dramatically raise taxes or dramatically cut back the program.

There is hope, however, for sustaining Social Security and the American economy, if we act now. For years, Ryan labored to cultivate a wide array of creative solutions for future retirees (not current ones)—raising the retirement age, cutting the entitlement for the wealthy, allow for more private investment, etc. When Ryan was picked as Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, it seemed as if his lonely battle would finally become mainstream in the GOP.

Indeed, Romney and Ryan did not back off the issue, even as attack ads pictured old people in wheelchairs being pushed off cliffs. One of the rumored reasons that Ryan did not seek the presidency or, initially, the Speaker’s gavel was because he wanted to finish what he started on entitlements. If he ran for president, his opponents would run against the reforms, rather than upon them. As Speaker, he would be tarred with the “establishment” brush.

His courage extended to other policy areas as well. President Obama named his nemesis when he highlighted Ryan as one of the bright lights on Capitol Hill. In turn, this recognition provided Ryan a greater platform for one of the more memorable take-downs during the Obamacare debate. During those debates, Ryan was consistently working with The Heritage Foundation to provide a deep, detailed critique of the Obamacare debacle, while also promoting positive and productive policies to put in place instead.

All of these positions come from a place of deep-seated principle. Ryan is well-versed in the history of the conservative movement and the philosophy that animates it and brings together its various parts. In a brief chapter for a Heritage Foundation publication, Ryan works to connect two fundamental pieces of the founding of America and the conservative movement: life and liberty. These two concepts are not adversarial in nature, but fundamentally interrelated.

Now, Ryan faces the fight of his political life. His principled reservations concerning an unprincipled GOP presidential nominee has furthered the erroneous stereotype of Paul Ryan as an establishment squish. With immigration bizarrely coming to define conservatism this year—over and above a whole host of fiscal and moral issues—his attempts at compromise are being used to sink him in the same way they were used against Senator Marco Rubio.

Ryan’s primary opponent, businessman Paul Nehlen, recently charged that a Speaker Ryan would work to thwart a President Trump at every opportunity. Such a charge shows a fundamental misunderstanding of Ryan’s character and aims. He seeks to further conservative policies, not Republican ones. If Trump puts forth bad policy that does not enhance fundamental American principles, Ryan will not wither before another progressive president.

Trump’s own VP candidate, Mike Pence, was once one of the few conservative congressmen to stand athwart President George W. Bush’s reckless Medicare expansion. You better believe that Paul Ryan would do the same thing. We should hope that a Speaker Ryan would continue his principled legacy in service of a conservative (and American) philosophy. If a President Trump chooses to challenge that philosophy, then a Speaker Ryan will stand athwart his efforts. First, however, Ryan must beat back his ill-informed primary opponent.

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