op-ed

Paul Ryan and the farce of liberal compassion

David Cohen Former Deputy Assistant Sec. of the Interior

When I heard that Mitt Romney had tapped Paul Ryan to be his running mate, I expressed my enthusiasm on Facebook: “Love [Ryan’s] courage and intellect,” I posted. “Shows that Romney is committed to making this election an intelligent debate about the nature and direction of our country.”

A liberal friend of mine was also excited, but for different reasons: “We are going to find out all the courage it takes to attack the weakest sections of our society and reward the most powerful!” he posted in retort. “Romney just lost Florida and the election.”

Florida, of course, has a large population of senior citizens who are fiercely protective of their Medicare benefits. Ryan and Romney have each proposed Medicare reform plans to keep the program — and the country — from going broke. But there is nothing in Ryan’s — or more importantly in Romney’s — Medicare reforms that would threaten the benefits of those seniors. Neither plan would change the system at all for any current senior — or even for anyone within a decade of becoming a senior. Reforms would only apply to people 54 or younger, and they would be voluntary. People could stay on the old system if they wanted to; the Democrats’ claim that these plans would “end Medicare as we know it” is therefore a falsehood. Similarly, their assertion that the reforms would affect current seniors is completely untrue. What is true is that President Obama is raiding $716 billion from Medicare to fund Obamacare. That will certainly hurt current seniors, as will the panel of cost-cutting bureaucrats who, under Obamacare, will decide which life-saving procedures will be paid for — and which will not.

The only way that Ryan could be a liability with seniors is if they believe the lies rather than the truth. So when Democrats confidently predict that Ryan will drive Florida into their column, they are essentially confirming their intention to keep lying about Medicare. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, with her characteristically amusing bull-headedness, demonstrated this on CNN recently; she stubbornly refused to admit the indisputable fact that GOP reforms would not affect current seniors. And the president himself is using slippery, carefully parsed language to (falsely) imply that he has not actually cut Medicare. But Obama was more honest back in 2009, when he admitted that a third of the funding for Obamacare comes from cuts in Medicare.

Will Florida seniors earn the contempt that the Obama campaign clearly has for their intelligence? The Republicans, honorably, are betting not. As for my Facebook friend’s other comment — that the choice of Ryan reflects an intent to “attack the weakest sections of our society and reward the most powerful” — well, there they go again.

I’ll share a little secret with those of my conservative friends who, unlike me, have never had the pleasure of being a liberal: Many liberals have a deep-seated psychological need to believe they have a monopoly on compassion. And many Obama supporters stubbornly cling to this belief in the face of all evidence that the president’s policies — measured by results, not supposedly good intentions — have been the opposite of compassionate.

Of all the groups in America that need our compassion, the two largest are (a) the 23 million who are struggling to find work and (b) the tens of millions of younger Americans whose future is imperiled by our exploding debt. President Obama’s policies have been a tragic disaster for both groups.

For the tens of millions who are suffering in our society, the most compassionate outcome is for our economy to create more jobs. But President Obama has demonstrated an unerring knack for getting in the way. As I have pointed out in previous columns, he has created a hostile regulatory environment that has made businesses afraid to expand and banks afraid to lend. Investors are afraid to make job-creating investments: the threat of higher taxes makes it harder to justify risking money in an abysmal economy. Employers are afraid to hire because they have no idea how much Obamacare will increase the cost of each additional worker. Whether Obama pursues these policies out of clueless befuddlement, or whether he’s motivated by a cynical divide-and-conquer political strategy, the result is the same: misery, anxiety and despair. Unemployment over 8 percent for three-and-a-half straight years. Real unemployment of 15 percent. Voting for more of the same is hardly an act of compassion.

Mitt Romney is fond of saying that the private sector creates jobs, but that President Obama thinks government creates jobs. But under Obamanomics, it hardly matters: the president has made it harder to create jobs in both the private sector and the public sector. Obama’s wasteful stimulus has left us with little but record debt, which has thwarted his misguided dream of yet another costly new public jobs program.

Some liberals equate compassion with government spending on social programs — regardless of whether that spending actually helps people. Paul Ryan, a disciple of Jack Kemp, knows that we have inadvertently created much misery through well-meaning social programs. Welfare programs, for example, destroyed families by making fathers economically expendable. We’re still dealing with the social wreckage that those programs caused prior to welfare reform. Some liberals, however, believe that their support for social programs makes them good people, and they don’t overly concern themselves with whether those programs actually work. That’s not compassion, that’s narcissism.

The other problem with equating compassion with government spending, of course, is that the federal government has to borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends. We already spend hundreds of billions of dollars just to pay interest on our debt, and much of that gets sucked straight overseas. With the trajectory that Obama has put us on, we’ll be spending a trillion dollars a year on interest within a decade. When we use “compassion” as an excuse to avoid spending cuts and entitlement reform, we are being heartlessly uncompassionate to our children and grandchildren. It is they who will have to bear this crippling debt that we have run up to spend on ourselves; it is they who may, like the Greeks, lose the ability to use government as a means to protect the weakest in society.

It is fashionable on the left to accuse Ryan of lacking compassion. They have it backwards. The policies espoused by Ryan — and Romney — are the most compassionate of all: Pro-growth tax reform to create jobs for those who are struggling the most. Entitlement reform that protects the benefits of current seniors (and near-seniors), but keeps both the programs and our government solvent for younger people. Government that gets out of the way of job creation. Health care that is patient-centered, not government-controlled, and that endows rich and poor alike with the power to be consumers. By advocating these policies in the face of relentlessly merciless and dishonest demagoguery, Ryan has shown a courage that has validated the authenticity of his compassion.

The Romney-Ryan ticket got its prime-time introduction on “60 Minutes” on Sunday. But I was actually most moved not by their segment, but by the one that followed it. “Never in the last 60 years has the length of joblessness been as long as it has been recently,” reported anchor Scott Pelley. “Nearly four million people, almost a third of the unemployed, have been out of work more than a year. They’ve been severed from the workforce.” Pelley went on to show us heartbreaking stories of people who had lost their dignity, their pride, their confidence and their hope in the debilitating trap of long-term unemployment. I felt sad as I watched the great pain that these people were going through. But mostly I felt angry.

This is what Obama’s “compassion” has gotten us. It is a cruel parody of compassion. It is a “compassion” that values salesmanship and proclaimed good intentions over reality and results. It has become a farce, and we can no longer afford it.

David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.