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Questioning the trajectory of Rep. Ryan’s rising star

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

This past Sunday was a big day for Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints—but it was also a big day for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

Rarely has a lowly House member received so much glowing praise from such diverse commentators. In just one day, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin effusively gushed to Chris Wallace on FOX News Sunday that she was “impressed” by him—George Will imagined him as vice president—and even “progressive” Washington Post health care blogger Ezra Klein grudgingly complimented him on the “daring solutions” offered in his budget plan (this all came on the heels of President Obama’s complimenting Ryan during the GOP conference Q&A session).

In recent weeks, Ryan’s stature has increased to the point where people are beginning to talk of him—not just a future vice president—but even (daresay) a future president. And, in all honesty, his budget plan is terrific. As ranking member on the House Budget Committee, Ryan has emerged as a rare, articulate spokesman for conservatism. (It would be difficult for me to criticize his plan, inasmuch as many of his ideas are identical to the ones I proposed in my “Contract for America, 2.0.”).

But while Ryan’s boyish looks, youthful style, and sharp intellect have garnered him much praise from conservatives desperate to find the next Ronald Reagan, he has one major problem: His actual voting record.

Though he talks like Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, some of Ryan’s most high-profile votes seem closer to Keynes than to Adam Smith. For example, in the span of about a year, Ryan committed fiscal conservative apostasy on three high-profile votes: The Troubled Asset Relief Program, or  TARP (whereby the government purchased assets and equity from financial institutions), the auto-bailout (which essentially implied he agrees car companies – especially the ones with an auto plant in his district—are too big to fail), and for a confiscatory tax on CEO bonuses (which essentially says the government has the right to take away private property—if it doesn’t like you).

While Ryan’s overall voting record is very conservative, the problem with casting these high-profile votes is that they demonstrate he is willing to fundamentally reject conservatism when the heat is on.

Because it is impossible to believe the highly intelligent and well read Rep. Ryan was unfamiliar with conservative economic principles, one must conclude he either 1). Doesn’t really believe in free market economics, or 2). Was willing to cast bad votes for purely political purposes.

From my standpoint, ignorance can be forgiven and overcome; the other explanations, however, seem to be disqualifiers for higher office.

In fairness, Ryan was not alone. Other “conservative” members of Congress voted for at some of these bad bills, but the difference, of course, is that Ryan is the one many conservatives are viewing as a “rising star” conservative wunderkind. (Note: Nobody is arguing Paul Ryan should be “primaried” by a conservative in his Congressional district, but, by the same token, isn’t all this effusive praise a bit overwrought?)

Though Ryan has downplayed his bad votes, what is more interesting is that few conservatives seem to hold them against him. His many defenders (and trust me, I’ve encountered them) cavalierly dismiss his voting record as mere pragmatism, or an easily forgiven mistake, like, ‘Oops, I voted for $700 billion! My bad…’

When pressed, his apologists often admit they support him because of his style and intellect, despite his actual voting record. The irony, of course, is that conservatives were furious when Clinton and Obama apologists dismissed their flaws by saying, “but he’s so smart,” or “he’s cool…”

Still, a few critical voices have slowly emerged. Commenting on the fact that Ryan has been given multiple passes, prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin once asked: “How many strikes do ‘Republican rising stars’ get?” (Apparently, if your name is Paul Ryan, you get many).

Still, the talk of Ryan’s “rising star” status continues, and one can only imagine that, should he ever run for president, the bad votes would finally catch up with him. After all, it’s one thing to argue that your bad votes came before your political awakening (as Mitt Romney did), but Ryan would have a hard time making that argument. Ryan’s votes were volitional.

Either way—love him or hate him—it is clear that Rep. Paul Ryan has many adoring fans. He has emerged as an articulate and effective spokesman for conservatism, even impressing Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, and George Will. It will be interesting to see if his bad votes come back to haunt him, or if they will be merely a bump in the road on his way to electoral stardom.

Matt Lewis is a conservative writer and blogger, based in Alexandria, Va.

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  • nattygreene

    @kimberlypet

    Actually, I meant that punitive taxes on bonuses is bad economics, not bonuses themselves. My point is most of these financial companies crawled into bed with big government a long time ago and they deserve whatever they get. Same for all the big healthcare companies that tried to cut deals with Obama to aid his takeover of the healthcare system. Let the Dems stick it to them good and hard and maybe they’ll think twice before they sell out again.

    As for honoring the sacred contracts with these guys, one of them didn’t think twice about arbitrarily cutting out the variable compensation and slashing vacation time for senior managers at my company even though they were usually agreed to in offers of employment. And how many times have I seen sale people cut loose a couple months before getting a big commission payout? Too many to count.

    Incidentally, most of what these guys did to get that good performance was 1. lay people off and/or convert them to contractors, 2. take advantage of a favorable yield curve and 0% interest courtesy of the Fed, and 3. ride a big run up in the Dow.

    I’ve been in the banking industry going on twenty years now. I’ve gotten just far enough up the ladder to get an eyefull of how the executive suite sausage gets made. Trust me, your energies would be better spent arguing the cause of liberty for small businesses, families, and individuals.

  • des1

    A couple of notes…..First, Ryan has repeatedly assured everyone he has no interest in higher office. He says his family is more important (which personally makes me like him more than anything else he’s done).

    Second, I know a lot of Conservatives smarter than you who think the first TARP was absolutely the right thing to do. It’s one thing to say you disagree. It’s another to say that someone voting for it is them betraying Conservatism. You sound as deluded as those Liberals who live their entire life in a collegiate bubble and don’t understand real world consequences to their ideas.

    Third, you can bite me with the whining about the CEO salaries. The company I worked for went bankrupt. The company who owned it pulled their backing and left us all out of work and we were owed thousands (I was a low level employee and got screwed out of $1500). The people who made that decision all made sure that they were paid before the rest of us and we had no say in the matter (I got a bunch of letters about bankruptcy sales, but never saw a dime of what they owed me). If banks took taxpayer money to avoid bankruptcy, then CEO’s who were expecting huge bonuses can go to hell. If they hadn’t taken the money then it’s their business (even though they’re willing to lie, cheat and steal to maximize their personal profits at the expense of everyone else). Once they took my money (or whatever was left of it) to bail their asses out, they forfeited their rights to their previous contracts.

    I am so sick of Republicans sucking up to people like CEOs and pretending that they’re unethical behavior doesn’t screw over thousands of us who have absolutely no recourse (and no million dollar nest egg to fall back on).

    You can officially kiss my ass.

  • kimberlypet

    @Nattygreene,

    CEO bonuses are not “bad economics”!! they are a matter of contract law! you signed a contract with a bank or mortgage company, do you think they should be able to come to you in a year, or ten years, and say that circumstances have changed and therefore they will amend your contract and your interest rate will now be 3 or 5 points higher? of course not. they are also incentives, rewards for good performance and profits, they are not random. also, bonuses such as we see today came about as a response to Clinton era salary caps.