Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Circular Firing Squad

(NB: This is not addressed to any specific individuals. I also believe that supporters of the Ryan budget have every right to make their case as strongly as they can. This more addresses a particular mood.)

Maybe it's me, but some of the intra-right debate about the Ryan budget is sounding increasingly like the debate over Christine O'Donnell in 2010: focusing more on sending a message than on advancing conservative goals.

A couple preliminary facts: the Ryan budget has NO chance of passing until 2013, and, at the moment, it is not very popular.

Knowing both of those facts
, the House Republican caucus decided to vote overwhelmingly in favor of this measure. Fair enough. Leadership had its reasons. Many House members walked the plank on this vote, and that gamble may prove to be helpful for conservatives shaping the debate in the future. That die is already cast.

House Republicans and the Republican establishment may feel the need to circle the wagons to defend that vote. That is also fair or at least understandable.

But what is dangerous is a crusade against any Republican who dares to criticize the Ryan budget. That budget is not perfect, to say the least. The Republican and conservative causes are not strengthened by an attempt to enforce a petty ideological orthodoxy (the Bush years suffered from this tendency toward uniformity).

Republicans derided Democrats for forcing through Obamacare, an ambitious, radical measure with weak popular support. Democrats and progressives twisted countless arms to impose their vision on an unenthusiastic America. The backlash from this measure helped sink Democrats across the country. Republicans should not fall into the same trap, especially for a measure that will never become law until, potentially, after the next election.

The number one electoral goal for Republicans at the moment should be putting forward the most credible, competent, and electable conservative candidates possible---not (forgive me, Mr. Chairman) fighting and dying on the hill of the Ryan "roadmap." Passing the Ryan budget may be part of the victory for free-market conservatives, but we should not fetishize a single piece of legislation to the detriment of all else.

For those who believe that there is an entitlements crisis---no, a national emergency---that needs to be stopped RIGHT NOW!!!!---forget about the Ryan budget. It would add trillions of dollars to the debt* in the next few years. Its major reforms for Medicare would not be substantially felt for well over a decade; Medicare as we know it would continue for everyone who is over 55 by the time it passes, and, for a while after that, the majority of people on Medicare would have the old-school variant.

If we are at fiscal/entitlements Armageddon, the Ryan budget is a failure. If we are not at that point, this budget may be more helpful. Under either circumstance, there is no need for such strident denunciations of those who would dare to criticize it.

Scott Brown voting in favor of the Ryan budget on the Senate floor in 2011 will do absolutely nothing to advance the cause of fiscal conservatism; indeed, voting for it may hurt that cause, since such a vote could very well hurt Brown's chances of reelection. Though Newt Gingrich may have used inopportune language in criticizing Ryan's "roadmap," he is well within his rights to suggest the limitations of this plan.

Any Republican presidential candidate (or any Republican candidate at all) who wishes to distance himself or herself from the Ryan budget and propose entitlement reforms of his or her own has every right to do so. And this critique should not be necessarily confused with a forfeiture of all conservative principles. If the Ryan budget is so important for a GOP presidential candidate, then Ryan himself should run for the White House.

Sending a message to show that you're "serious" about fiscal reform is the mere hysteria of Washington kabuki. Reducing unhelpful spending and cutting the deficit and reforming derelict programs---those are the things that really advance fiscal conservatism.

Oh, and back to Christine O'Donnell: she lost big, and Senator Chris Coons is highly unlikely ever to vote for anything closely resembling the Ryan budget. The emphasis should be less on attacking Republicans for daring to dissent and more on persuading those dissenters and the public at large why the Ryan budget is a good idea (as Ryan aims to do here). Turning one's back on RINO traitors may be a cathartic move, but it does little to advance real conservatism. When conservatism becomes the politics of rage and exclusion, it loses; when it becomes the politics of hope and engagement, it wins.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post had "deficit" instead.

(Crossposted at FrumForum)


  1. The iceberg looms dead ahead while the officers, crew, and passengers concentrate on the fight over scheduling the shuffleboard courts.

    This will not end well

  2. RiNO!

    (I cannot believe that I got to say that first. Is the Purity Patrol sleeping in this morning?)

  3. RINO! (First, we had to become aware that this RINO-gobbling site existed. Now we can rip on it.)

    Scott Brown isn't even nominally a Republican. He's a liberal Democrat who is rarely, but occasionally at odds with liberal doctrine. Fuck Scott Brown. He claimed that he drives some symbolic pickup truck. He doesn't; he drives a symbolic Mazda Miata, the ultimate chick car.

    He's a whiny liberal bitch who's actual character is the opposite of his campaign persona: he couldn't give a crap about principle, other than the principle of "Re-Elect Me!"

    He's Susan Collins, but prettier.

  4. What we really need is more criticism of the Ryan budget from the *right*. It doesn't go nearly far enough in reducing the scope of government to its proper role of defending individual rights. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security should be privatized or eliminated, not "reformed". Virtually all of the alphabet agencies (FDA, FCC, FEC, EPA, DOE,...) and the regulations they enforce should be abolished.

    Eliminating the weight of future debt and the bureacratic stranglehold on our lives and businesses is the best message of "hope and engagement" that I can think of.

  5. As the man said, the Ryan budget cannot become law until after Obama leaves the presidency. The task now is to educate the American people, who know something is up, about Medicare and the fact that it cannot survive in the present format. The Democrats know this and, to permit demagoguery on Medicare, have failed to submit a budget for the past two years. Maybe Ryan will have to be the Republican nominee to get this explained properly.

  6. "Any Republican presidential candidate (or any Republican candidate at all) who wishes to distance himself or herself from the Ryan budget and propose entitlement reforms of his or her own has every right to do so."
    The important words here are "and propose entitlement reforms of his or her own..." I don't recall Sen. Brown proposing anything, just making an empty - and factually incorrect - statement about Ryan's plan. It's this kind of self-serving weakness that gets people upset. Had Brown said something along the lines of "I disagree with the Ryan plan because of (insert reasons here) and propose instead (insert actual proposals here), we would have had the beginnings of an actual conversation; not some political pablum dressed up as principles.

  7. If we are at fiscal/entitlements Armageddon, the Ryan budget is a failure. If we are not at that point, this budget may be more helpful.

    If we wait until Armageddon, we'll be forced to adopt a far more draconian plan than what Mr. Ryan has proposed. By opposing the Ryan plan, and failing to provide a competent alternative, Brown and Gingrich are by default supporting that draconian future plan. In the process they're lending political cover to the left-side demagogues who show no interest in preserving U.S. fiscal health.

  8. My policy would be to promise not to touch medicare and Social Security until everything else has been cut to the bone or eliminated or returned to the states. THEN we do what we have to. When it is crystal clear that there is no alternative.

  9. While using nice phrases the blogger advances the mantle of Crist/Castle... and I'll not have any more of that. While I agree Scott Brown has a bevy of concerns, I won't be painting a smile on these elite-serving tones. My advice to the author... Ophelia, Get thee to a nunnery!

  10. "Scott Brown isn't even nominally a Republican."

    A perfect example of what Fred is talking about.