A Tale of Two Paul Ryans
As a libertarian, I approve of Mitt Romney’s vice presidential choice. Naturally, I expect this statement to inflame a certain subset of the movement - but to those of you who are invested in mainstreaming libertarian thought, particularly within the Republican Party, I hope you’ll consider why the Ryan pick is actually a victory for us - on an intellectual level.
The reality is that we’re contending with a tale of two Paul Ryans. The Paul Ryan that I like, and encourage other libertarians to embrace, is Vice Presidential candidate Ryan - the man with a natural gift for communicating; who articulates the dire need for entitlement reform and balanced budgets effectively (which I recognize and appreciate, even if I disagree with some aspects of his plans). Before we can enact the bolder reforms of, say for example, Senator Rand Paul, the public needs to be introduced to the notion that entitlement programs are no longer the third rail of politics. Vice Presidential candidate Ryan is different from his evil twin Congressman Ryan, whose voting record libertarians should rightfully reject. But we need to understand the difference between the two Paul Ryans, and how one can be our enemy while the other is our friend.
As libertarians, we often forget how many steps ahead we are of the average voter in understanding the breadth of the fiscal mess our nation faces. It can be difficult for us to remain patient. But if we truly want to see our ideas impact federal policy, we need to compromise to the extent that it furthers our longterm goals. In this instance, that means embracing the aforementioned notion of the two Paul Ryans; understanding that we can reject the voting record of Congressman Ryan, but embrace the rhetorical skills of Vice Presidential candidate Ryan, who will be traveling the nation, pushing the message that refusing to reform our entitlement programs means not only ending them in a catastrophic manner, but bankrupting our nation.
That these issues are now mainstream in the Republican Party when mere years ago, the entire GOP was behind entitlement expansion without reform, speaks to a degree of intellectual progress that libertarians ought to embrace and harness. After all, even the libertarians who oppose political action say winning the battle of ideas means more than electoral victories. I’m of the opinion that they’re equally important and typically go hand in hand - but no libertarian should oppose the intellectual victory that Romney picking the perceived champion of budget cuts and entitlement reform represents. Yes, Paul Ryan’s plans don’t go nearly far enough. But a nation that refuses to accept Paul Ryan’s ideas will never accept Rand Paul’s ideas, so we need to take this one step at a time. We’re lucky to have Paul Ryan out there speaking on this issue, because frankly, the man does a damn good job, despite that pesky voting record of his.
And of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t highlight the realities of said pesky voting record - that has to be done, because the right-wing base needs to understand that he’s far from our political savior in an all encompassing sense; that he’s merely a step in the right direction. However, necessary dwelling on the past needs to be balanced with an understanding that, from where we stand as libertarians interested in the future of the Republican Party, Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s VP is actually helping us build the intellectual case for serious federal reform, of both entitlements and our budget. What the liberty movement cannot afford to lose track of is fact that the intellectual case is different from the political case; it’s much more public; more dependent on the whim of swing voters, who Paul Ryan will go forth and persuade.
We also cannot forget that the intellectual case must precede the political case. We can hash out the politics eventually - but only after the public is convinced of the need for entitlement reform in the first place. The epic battles between Republican factions in Congress over every little minor detail of budgets, reform plans, and yes, voting records, have their time and place. I will be the first to say, in that context, that Paul Ryan’s plans don’t go nearly far enough to have a real impact. But while Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is out on the campaign trail convincing average voters that reform is needed, I will support him wholeheartedly in order to get to the point where Rand Paul’s 5-year budget plan can become a political reality - and I encourage my fellow fiscal conservatives to do the same.