A friend of Rep. Paul Ryan (R) reminds me that the Wisconsin congressman anticipated the current debate over President Obama’s view of the private sector — back in 2010 with a written, and then in-person, debate with the New York Times’ David Brooks.
Ryan wrote, :
[W]e have to decide between an opportunity society, where the government promotes a vibrant free enterprise system and sturdy safety net v. an expanding social welfare state – one where the government assumes greater control of more sectors of the economy and more aspects of our lives.
That doesn’t mean we believe every action by the Federal government is wrong or unwise or even counterproductive. But we do argue – with considerable evidence on our side – that the Federal government has added layer upon layer to its core functions; that it is now on a path that everyone agrees is fiscally unsustainable; and that it is therefore in urgent need of fundamental reform.
We face, if you like, A Time for Choosing.
Given the deterioration in our fiscal situation, the continued economic doldrums and the president’s sneering at entrepreneurs, this rings even more true today.
Ryan was careful not to adopt an all-or-nothing approach:
The issue is not whether we ought to “zero out the state” or whether “all government action is automatically dismissed as quasi-socialist.” The issue is rather more subtle and sophisticated than that. The real debate is about whether and how government ought to create the foundations for growth and prosperity, securing a safety net for those who need it most; about how government can act now to avert a catastrophe later.
The truth is that there are two stark, competing philosophies over this matter. I know better than most that the debate will at times be uncomfortable and unpleasant. In ordinary times, political debate concerns the means, not the ends, of government. But we do not live in ordinary times; we live in a time when the first principles of governing are on the table. Nor did we seek this debate; bipartisan failures of the past and our current leaders’ acceleration of their agenda have forced America to make this choice. So we cannot advance to the “day after tomorrow” until we decide today what kind of government we want our nation to have after tomorrow. And that is, right now, an open question
That has turned out to be precisely the message Romney is now running on. If Romney thinks he’s found a winning theme, Ryan would seem to be uniquely qualified to expound upon and reiterate it. After all, he’s been saying this for two years, and he fashioned policies which reflect it.