Home/Daniel Larison/Republicans Are Still the Party of Insolvency and Imperialism

Republicans Are Still the Party of Insolvency and Imperialism

Will Wilkinson doubts that tying Romney to Paul Ryan’s budget plan will be harmful to Romney:

Unfortunately for Mr Obama, Mr Ryan is no Newt Gingrich. He is not a pompous, self-aggrandizing bloviator in the grand southern style. He’s a likeable, hardworking, detail-oriented, Midwestern wonk who just happens to be something of a looker. Moreover, Mr Ryan’s conservatism largely eschews the odious cultural politics of social conservatives and focuses instead on a pragmatic, fiscally conservative market-oriented meliorism, the appeal of which is by no means limited to the hard right. He’s an attractive politician offering an attractive comprehensive alternative to the administration’s approach.

This is a version of the pundit fallacy. This is a clear case of Wilkinson’s substituting his view of the merits Ryan and his budget plan for an analysis of the political consequences of linking Romney and Ryan together. It’s debatable whether Ryan is as far removed from social conservatism and its cultural politics as Wilkinson suggests, but notice how the adjectives do all the work in this passage. Ryan and his budget plan are supposedly not politically dangerous to Romney because Ryan’s fiscal conservatism is “pragmatic” and “market-oriented,” unlike the “odious” cultural politics of social conservatives that Wilkinson seems to take for granted would be politically radioactive. It just so happens that Wilkinson prefers fiscal conservatism and loathes social conservatism, and he mistakenly assumes that this is what the broader electorate also prefers.

Maybe Ryan’s conservatism is pragmatic, and maybe he has no credibility as a fiscal conservative (more likely), but only someone strongly biased in favor of what Ryan is proposing could fail to see that an association with Ryan is potentially much more politically dangerous for Romney than any election-year association between Dole and Gingrich was. Ryan is an “attractive” politician to those who already agree with his “attractive” proposals. Otherwise, his proposals are at best controversial and at worst radioactive.

In 1996, Gingrich was not identified closely with social conservatives, and the reason Clinton wanted to associate Dole with him was precisely because he wanted to create the (laughable) impression that both Dole and Gingrich were government-slashing radicals. If the public was concerned about Republican overreaching on cutting government programs, Clinton wanted to make them terrified that this is what would happen if they elected Dole. The idea that Gingrich and Dole had a common agenda was preposterous (it was Gingrich who dubbed Dole the “tax collector for the welfare state,” after all), but that has never stopped anyone from using scare tactics. On the other hand, Romney and Ryan do have a common agenda. Romney has made a point of saying so.

Everything in Wilkinson’s argument hinges on the assumption that Ryan is presenting a “serious, substantive policy proposal.” He may be right that the Obama campaign response has been and will be little more than easy demagoguery, but where is the “serious, substantive policy proposal” to which they are responding? Regarding Ryan’s “coherent, detailed policy proposals,” one small problem is that they are lacking in key details. When the new plan was released, Bruce Bartlett found it seriously wanting:

I think Ryan has an undeserved reputation for seriousness in budget matters. The word “fantasy” would better apply. As Prof. Calvin Johnson of the University of Texas law school told me, the tax side of Ryan’s plan “is floating in the clouds without any connection to earth or reality.” And of course accomplishing what he hopes to do on the spending side is even more fanciful.

In my opinion, the Ryan budget should be seen as nothing more than a PR document for Republicans so they can say they have a plan to balance the budget, cut taxes, and cure the common cold.

Let’s not forget the inevitable increases in military spending that Ryan’s budget also includes. Would it really be a “glorious death” to campaign and lose on a platform of fiscal insolvency and increased militarism?

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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