Rep. Paul Ryan (R- Wis.) and his staff obviously planned the budget roll-out with meticulous care. The right is gushing (at Heritage, at Americans for Tax Reform, and on talk-radio with conservative favorites such as Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham and Rush Limbaugh). In the Senate, Ryan snagged the support of two stalwart conservatives Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) praised the effort.
This tells us a few things. First, there is very little room on the right to criticize the Ryan budget. To be blunt, is a Republican freshman going to accuse Ryan of “selling out” when Ryan has so many rock-solid conservative rock stars on his side? Second, this doesn’t happen by magic. I’m guessing — wild guess here — that Ryan and his staff spent hours and hours lining up support. It’s like they understand how to drive a message, flood the airwaves and capture the momentum. You know, there’s another national contest underway where those talents would be of help. (Imagine if this were August and the announcement was not a budget but a Ryan candidacy. You can see how the the bonfire would start.)
But Ryan is not only PR and clever videos. What makes him a formidable figure and opponent to the president is his intellectual seriousness. (I will be the first to call for a budget summit, televised like the health-care summit, one with another round of Ryan vs. Obama.) At the American Enterprise Institute (where Ryan last appeared in a debate against David Brooks, who was thrilled by Ryan’s plan), Ryan offered an overview of his vision and his budget plan. He made both the philosophical case (“If the debt poses an existential threat to all we hold dear — if we truly believe that our current path leads to a debt-fueled economic crisis and to the demise of America’s exceptional promise — then let’s dispense with the trivialities”), and he went through the four core elements:
• First, this budget reforms government to make it more efficient, effective and responsible.
• Second, it builds on the state-led welfare reform successes of the 1990s to strengthen the social safety net.
• Third, this budget helps to fulfill the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans.
• Fourth, it will reform the tax code to promote economic growth and job creation.
And then he closed with an emphasis not just on the numbers but on the values at stake:
America is drawing perilously close to a tipping point that has the potential to curtail free enterprise, transform our government, and weaken our national identity in ways that may not be reversible.
The tipping point represents two dangers: first, long-term economic decline as the number of makers diminishes and the number of takers grows . . . and second, gradual moral-political decline as dependency and passivity weaken the nation’s character . . . as the power to make decisions is stripped from individuals — and their elected representatives — and given to non-elected bureaucrats.
This budget charts a new path. It represents a new federal commitment, assuring this nation’s workers, investors and entrepreneurs that the new House majority recognizes the threat that unlimited government poses to the American way of life.
Show me another Republican who has the “campaign” skills, the depth of knowledge and the philosophical gravitas of a Paul Ryan. Don’t waste your time — there aren’t any.