As you hear all the attacks on Paul Ryan and his budget plan from the Obama campaign and their media promoters, ask yourself one question: What in the world did Ryan have to gain with his budget proposal?
The answer is nothing personally. He hardly could see it would propel him to be a vice-presidential nominee. In fact, he had much to lose by proposing it.
Conventional wisdom dictated then — and by the reaction of the Obama campaign to Ryan as Mitt Romney‘s VP candidate, still dictates today — that it is political suicide to go after America’s entitlement programs. They are a “third rail” of American politics, not to be touched by any politician who wants to remain in office. That’s especially true for a Republican like Ryan who comes from a swing district that backed President Obama in 2008.
But Ryan took on America’s entitlement problems anyway, particularly Medicare, because he knew if the programs weren’t addressed they would crush America’s finances and bankrupt the country. He didn’t say his plan was perfect. He was willing to work with other serious colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make it better. In fact, he reworked his Medicare reform with liberal Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to improve on an earlier version.
But in the end, so few on the Democratic side came to the table.
So, yes, it is easy to nitpick Ryan’s plan. Could it use tweaks? Sure. Could some of his assumptions be off? Quite possibly. But remember: Unlike most of his criticizers in government, he has a plan — one that even former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles considers very serious.
The term for what Ryan has done used to be “leadership,” though I suppose leadership is now known as radical in some circles. And to some, Ryan’s leadership somehow makes him a “political coward” and a “murderer of opportunity,” as one particularly unhinged writer spewed in Esquire. But those racing to criticize Ryan and his budget plan should ask themselves why their favorite rep hasn’t put together a serious plan that deals with America’s looming crisis.
And what about President Obama?
When Obama’s Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner appeared before Ryan’s budget committee this year to discuss Team Obama’s preposterous budget proposal — so unworkable and unpopular that it attracted precisely zero votes in the House and Senate — Geithner admitted the president had no plan to deal with America’s tens of trillions of unfunded liabilities embedded in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
“We’re not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long term problem,” Geithner stammered when pressed by Ryan and confronted with a chart that showed America’s finances hurtling off a cliff, based on Obama’s a budget.
“What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
And that, ladies and gentleman, sums up President Obama’s idea of leadership. The word “pathetic” comes to mind, especially after more than three years in office. Explain, again, why the guy who came up with a plan is the villain?
In 2008 Obama mesmerized crowds promising to bring hope and change. But his hope and change was superficial, and often undefined. Ryan, in contrast, embodies real hope and change. Unlike Obama, he’s not a Tony Robbins of politics, a self-help barker telling Americans, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
Ryan offers specifics: a change in the way our entitlements are structured and the way we view government. And the hope embedded in this change is that America will be able to thrive, economically and internationally.
Yes, within Ryan’s proposal for change is the promise that the American Age doesn’t have to die, that Pax Americana is not yet over, that there is no reason the 21st century can’t be like the 20th century, another prosperous American century.
But in order for it to be so, we have to make some choices — choices that look difficult, but shouldn’t be.
Option one is President Obama’s path of irresponsibility. Along this path, all the government goodies will remain, but only temporarily. Ultimately it leads to destruction, the crash and burn of our economic system and the transformation of America into a far lesser version of the America we have come to know and love.
The other option is the Ryan path, whether his precise plan or some variation of it. His path faces our fiscal problems head-on, changes our course and gives us the opportunity to thrive. That path doesn’t end Medicare and Social Security, as the Democrats will demagogue; it reforms them and, yes, cuts back some of the giveaways. But without such reform, the giveaways go away anyway. It’s just a matter of when.
Until Ryan joined the ticket, the presidential campaign was rather unexciting. In one corner was President Obama, who had not put on paper a plan to face our great and foreseeable fiscal calamity during his three-plus years in the White House. In the other corner was Mitt Romney, who while laudable in many respects, seemed cautious when our moment demands boldness.
But Romney made the choice to go big. We can now have a real election with real differences and real choices. But it is up to Team Obama to embrace the seriousness of the moment and to accept the challenge to debate, not demagogue. Let us hope they do so.