Sentences I Hate: “Americans Are Hungry for Leadership.”

Cross-posted from Friction Tape.

By United States Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wall Street Journal editorial board today floats House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan as the best possible vice presidential running mate for presumptive GOP presidential nominee and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney:

The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.

Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp-like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers that includes such Governors as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

As important, Mr. Ryan can make his case in a reasonable and unthreatening way. He doesn’t get mad, or at least he doesn’t show it. Like Reagan, he has a basic cheerfulness and Midwestern equanimity.

There’s a good deal more at the link, especially about how Ryan stacks up against others rumored to be Romney’s running mate.

And WSJ is quite right that Ryan is both quite serious a lawmaker and one that packages a vision for the future better than any* GOP presidential candidate has been able to do. For example, his three-video series on federal budget and tax reform was succinct, clear, and cast America’s fiscal policy as the deciding issue of our time.

The Path to Prosperity (Part 1): America’s two futures, visualized

The Path to Prosperity (Part 2): Saving Medicare, Visualized

The Path to Prosperity (Part 3): 3 Steps to Pro-Growth Tax Reform — VISUALIZED

None of this is to say that, as a wonky politician, Ryan is perfect. Indeed, depending on the economic assumptions one makes, the Path to Prosperity’s numbers don’t always add up. When Ryan released the plan, I was critical of how his defense outlays were identical to President Obama’s, which were at historic highs even without war supplementals for ongoing peacekeeping operations in Iraq and warfighting operations in Afghanistan. Additionally, both men’s budgets claimed cuts to defense spending that were completely imaginary. But the video series offers a snapshot of what the Journal editorial board describes in what Ryan would add to an otherwise boring and technical Romney ticket.

So what am I complaining about? This sentence:

Above all, Americans are hungry for leadership.

Americans by and large want to be left alone; they oppose “bigness,” both in government and in corporate world:

Gallup poll on size of government, corporations

Not even 50% of Democrats polled are satisfied with the size, influence, and power of government (note: I’m sure some Democrats polled think government should be larger, more powerful, and more influential than it is; I also assume for the sake of argument that this group is relatively small):

Gallup poll on size of government, corporations by party

Every time someone runs around trumpeting that Americans crave leadership, we wind up with a self-aggrandizing politician who mistakenly thinks we’re all in this together — sort of like the president we have now (exactly like the president we have now). Paul Ryan may or may not be such a politician; I inherently distrust most of them. But on paper, for all the Path to Prosperity’s flaws, Paul Ryan at least seems to understand that not only can we not afford our government in its current form, we don’t want it.

For the WSJ editorial board to suggest that Americans crave leadership is to misunderstand what Americans want (if not to underestimate our survival abilities absent a bloated government). Achieving the Path to Prosperity’s reforms — including the Holy Grail of tax reform — takes leadership in Washington; it takes considerable political skill in coalition building, and in brokering support in two legislative chambers. That stuff is interesting to political intelligentsia, but to people in flyover country? They just want to be left alone.

Editorial boards: please don’t give any more Washington ideologues any bright ideas about their ability to save humanity with public policy.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Gallup, respectively.

*I exempt former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson from this list, as he abandoned the Republican Party nomination to seek and win the Libertarian Party nomination. To me, Johnson has, more so than any other candidate in any party, best laid out a positive vision for the future of the United States.


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