The virtues of 'Ryanism'

Reuters

U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (L) and vice-presidential candidate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI), hold a town hall meeting campaign stop in Manchester, New Hampshire August 20, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Since the 2008 election, American conservatism has been in a struggle to define itself. @ArthurBrooks

    Tweet This

  • “Ryanism” celebrates private entrepreneurship, demands lower taxation & is willing to take on structural reform issues.

    Tweet This

  • No matter what happens in November, millions of American conservatives will finally have something to vote for.

    Tweet This

Since the 2008 election, American conservatism has been in a struggle to define itself. Now the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate is helping to resolve that struggle.

For years, the political left has tagged conservatives as out-of-touch anarcho-capitalists, all while enjoying a Republican party that, in reality, has demanded little more than a marginally more efficient administration of the welfare state than what the Democrats want. Conservatives have tried in vain to find a voice that refutes both caricature and reality.

Now, Paul Ryan has found what may be the right approach, and Mitt Romney has installed it at the center of the Republican party before it is too late to save the country from a European-style debt crisis.


“Ryanism” celebrates private entrepreneurship, demands lower taxation, and is willing to take on the hard issues of structural reform to programs, including out of control entitlement spending. It seeks to protect the social safety net by limiting it to the truly indigent and not to allow it to become a source of middle class entitlement (as it has over the last few decades). It does not "end Medicare," but rather makes changes to the system for those under age 55 so the program is solvent and does not rob our children. It is unashamed of America's powerful position in the world and recognizes that military spending is—when pursued prudently and not wastefully—a public good and not just another government boondoggle.

In other words, the Ryan approach is conservative and, very likely, workable. That is why it is so feared and loathed by the left.

Shortly after the announcement of Ryan's vice presidential candidacy, Obama advisor David Axelrod characterized Ryan's budget ideas as "trillions of dollars of new tax cuts skewed to the wealthy that are paid for by cuts in college scholarships and loans and student aid and Medicare and nursing home care for seniors, and the things we need to grow like research and development and new American energy."

"For the first time since Ronald Reagan, Americans might just find they have a national political party centered on free enterprise and American greatness." -Arthur C. BrooksEven more telling, Ryanism's alarming ascendancy has stripped the veneer off some centrist groups long-believed by some on the right to front for liberal policies. For example, the cofounder of the nonpartisan self-described "moderate" organization Third Way has described Ryan as a "radical and a bomb-thrower." (So shrill have the organization's attacks on Ryan been that they provoked long-time Third Way donor and trustee Daniel Loeb, a New York financier, to resign his board membership in disgust, writing, "I can no longer support a group which is in the back pocket of this administration.")

In fact, the left's alarm is well founded. While the old GOP created little impediment to the liberal policy agenda, Ryanism poses a major threat to the forces of American social democracy over the coming decades. Further, Ryan himself is the walking refutation of the elite liberal narrative that true conservatives are basically unsophisticated rubes.

We do not yet know whether Mitt Romney's public embrace of Ryanism will move the polls for or against Obama enough to have an effect on the election. Perhaps Democrats will be able to convince Americans that Ryan is the scary ideological love child of Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises. Or maybe swing voters find the left's attacks unconvincing. Time will tell.

But there is guaranteed good news here for conservatives, no matter what happens in the November election. Millions of American conservatives will finally have something to vote for, instead simply of something to vote against. Look for an uptick in right wing enthusiasm in the months to come as a result.

Romney has done much more than fill out his ticket. He has shown his intention to refocus American politics. Ryanism is now an official voice of establishment Republicanism. For the first time since Ronald Reagan, Americans might just find they have a national political party centered on free enterprise and American greatness.



Arthur C. Brooks is president of the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise (Basic Books, 2012).

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Arthur C.
Brooks

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.