Ira Brodsky tries to defend Paul Ryan’s terrible voting record against libertarian critics*:
An effective legislator understands that a bill passed with bipartisan support is more likely to be widely embraced and fully implemented. And an effective legislator recognizes that there is a time for making symbolic gestures by voting for lost causes, a time for influencing flawed legislation, and a time for horse trading.
That might be a persuasive defense if Ryan had a record of being an effective legislator. If he had engaged in any deal-making that required him to cast unpalatable and bad votes in order to win support for desirable legislation, this would make a certain amount of sense. It might not satisfy all of Ryan’s critics on the right, but it would at least be more of a defense than the team player defense that Ryan and some of his admirers have offered. Ryan hasn’t been an effective legislator so far, and if the Republicans win the election he will cease to be a legislator.
As Conor Friedersdorf points out again today, Ryan doesn’t have any legislative successes that he can claim as his own, except for his supporting role in getting bad legislation passed on several occasions. All of the fiscally irresponsible votes he cast during the Bush years were just votes cast so that Ryan would be in line with what the Bush White House and the House GOP leadership wanted. This is hard to deny. In fact, Ryan doesn’t try to deny it. He says he was “miserable” when he cast those votes, but that is a roundabout acknowledgment that those votes weren’t part of any larger plan to win support for other bills.
Can any Ryan defenders point to an instance when he meaningfully influenced any of the flawed bills he supported? Was there ever any danger that he would have voted against these bills? Since Medicare Part D passed the House by such a thin margin, it’s not really credible to say that voting against it would have been supporting a lost cause. A serious fiscal conservative would not have voted for such a large new entitlement, especially when there was no effort made to pay for its costs. That’s the point of the criticism of Ryan’s voting record: most of Ryan’s career in Congress was defined by his support for the Republican majority’s fiscal irresponsibility.
The question is whether voters consider that an unfortunate series of mistakes that Ryan won’t make in the future, or if they are just a prelude to more of the same after the election. Pointing out that Ryan has not been a fiscal conservative during most of his career in Congress is not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. It just means that Ryan’s critics aren’t interested in pretending that someone with a deeply flawed record on fiscal issues is a fiscal conservative hero. It’s possible that he could change in the future, but to believe this one has to understand just how dramatic and significant that change would have to be.
* Of course, the libertarian and antiwar conservative criticism of Ryan’s voting record goes far beyond his fiscal irresponsibility. He has consistently been on the wrong side of every major vote on military spending, war, and civil liberties for the last decade.