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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beldar on Ryan's vulnerabilities

John McCormack has an eloquent analysis on the Weekly Standard's website entitled "Paul Ryan's Vulnerabilities: Are they any worse than Romney's or Perry's?" I commend it to you in its entirety, in part because I think the conservative pundits McCormack is quoting and responding to have themselves made thoughtful and articulate points, but more because I think McCormack's responses about Ryan are persuasive. (I don't agree quite as much with McCormack's comments about Romney's and Perry's vulnerabilities, but I agree with his premise that all candidates have vulnerabilities.)

My own highly selective take on two of these arguments:


On my friend Ed Morrissey's "executive experience" issue, take a step back and ask yourself this: Why exactly do we value this?

The simplest and obvious answer is: "Because the American Presidency is an executive office." It's a true answer. It's only a partial answer, though, because no other executive office of any sort or position can ever be more than fractionally as challenging and important as the POTUS.

For all the other types of executive experience in positions other than POTUS, we're just using executive experience as a predictor of, and to some extent a proxy for, the ability to exercise POTUS-caliber executive responsibility.

Nevertheless, I humbly submit that we value executive experience in general because it often correlates with effectiveness in identifying problems, finding solutions, and then effectively implementing them. People who effectively enlist others to join together to accomplish those things thereby prove themselves as leaders. This is true when running a business, or when running an armored division, or when running a state government's executive branch.

A typical legislator from either chamber of the U.S. Congress is, by definition, one of a very large crowd. But occasionally — rarely in the last few decades, but more often earlier in American history — a legislator stands out from that crowd through conspicuous leadership and accomplishment. And I don't mean leadership to the press microphones, either, or empty speech-making. I mean identifying problems, finding solutions, and then effectively enlisting others to join together to implement them.

Ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, I do not disparage anyone else on the national stage, including any of the other existing or rumored candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, when I say this:

Paul Ryan's crafting and shepherding of the Path to Prosperity (a/k/a "the Ryan Budget") through the U.S. House of Representatives this year, followed by his vital participation in the subsequent passage of "Cut, Cap & Balance" in the House, have been the most important and most impressive acts of conservative leadership and accomplishment on a national stage of the past several years.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI)

Now, technically speaking, that was not "executive leadership," I guess, because it's been happening under the Capitol Dome instead of in some other Washington building. But the vast bulk of our team's practical political effectiveness during the last two years — relying on political power gathered through the coalescence of the Tea Party movement and then the 2010 elections — has been focused through the House of Representatives and, specifically, the House Budget Committee. Paul Ryan's committee. That's exactly where the walk's been getting walked, as best we can walk it with the Senate and the White House still in the hands of the Democratic Party.

It's no knock on Rick Perry or Mitt Romney to point out that neither of them has yet done anything as consequential on a national stage as Paul Ryan has done just in this calendar year. So sure, their careers give us important indicators from which we can draw inferences about their potential executive abilities as POTUS. But in sharp contrast to the situation with all those legislators who've merely been great talkers in Congress instead of great doers — and I'm thinking in particular of a certain short-time U.S. Senator from Illinois who accomplished nothing and led no one as a legislator — we do in fact have ample indicators of leadership from Paul Ryan's career and accomplishments.

That's precisely why other GOP congressional leaders like John Boehner have been urging Ryan to get in the race: They've had the best opportunity to view and appreciate Ryan's leadership abilities in the most important and urgent recent events on the national political stage.

So if there's anyone whose demonstrated accomplishments ought to qualify for some "advanced placement credit" to make up for another sort of past accomplishment as an "executive," it's Paul Ryan. Simply put, we already know that Paul Ryan can lead, because he's been conspicuously busy all this year — leading.


As for my friend Allahpundit's "crippling the cause" argument: I'm sorry, but that's just backwards. To complete the four-year project that began the day Obama was elected and that can't be finished until the day he's defeated, and to change the direction of this country, we can't run a cautious campaign. We must win a mandate. We must have an ideas and values election, a watershed election with the same degree of political repudiation that voters delivered to Jimmy Carter in 1980 and reaffirmed when Carter's Veep, Walter Mondale, tried again in 1984.

We don't win by running away from entitlement reforms. We win by being the grown-ups, which means by exposing and confronting the problems, and by demonstrating that we have detailed and common-sensical solutions to them. We win by being honest, by promising to make choices that are hard but necessary, and by freeing the economy so that Americans — not their government, but Americans — can again create the growth and jobs essential to our hopes and futures. Ryan articulates that vision in measured, realistic terms, without sugar-coating but also without despair. He is convincing in explaining why the Democratic alternative is a vision of a declining America, of shared scarcity, of government-dictated rationing and control and leveling by driving everyone downward. 

We must educate and persuade. We must prepare for, and withstand, the most incredible blistering demagoguery that the Democratic Party's spin-doctors can concoct and spew forth — and it will make Niagra look puny, friends and neighbors, and it will be 24/7/365 from all the usual suspects every day until Election Day 2012.

If fiscal sanity can triumph, it will be through the patient persistence of Paul Ryan as its champion. The idea that he will be of more value to our team by staying in the House grossly understates the importance of the presidency in our fundamental constitutional structure, and the idea that we ought to groom him for another four years is just cowardly unless you're already fully resigned to more Obama hopey-changitude through late January 2017. Conservatives need our most effective national leader in the most consequential national office. And ultimately, that is the most powerful argument for a Ryan candidacy.


UPDATE (Sat Aug 20 @ 6:45pm): Further thoughts, prompted by a comment below:

As I've said here before, I've voted for Gov. Perry many times, going back to his first state-wide Texas race for Agriculture Commissioner; I've also voted for Sen. Hutchison many times, but I voted for Gov. Perry over her in the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary; and I can easily imagine circumstances in which I'd vote for Gov. Perry again. I'm keenly aware of Gov. Perry's flaws — not because they are terrible, but simply because I've been watching him closely for so many years, and he's human — and I disagree with a few of his substantive positions. But at some point, if Chairman Ryan persuades me that he really won't accept a draft from his party and his country to run for POTUS in 2012, then I'll have to choose among the other GOP candidates then in the race, and that may indeed turn out to be a choice for Gov. Perry — in which case I would enthusiastically support him and campaign for him in both primary and general elections. I don't think it's terribly likely, but Ryan and Perry would actually make a strong and balanced ticket.

But with Ryan, we don't have to just imagine how he would stand toe to toe — and win convincingly — in a debate with Barack Obama on a topic like Obamacare. Anyone who cares to watch can see that, because Ryan's already done it — on camera before a national audience while literally on Obama's home turf at the White House. Watch for the look on Obama's face starting just after 1:40 in that clip, right after Ryan declares of Obamacare that "what has been placed in front of them [i.e., the Congressional Budget Office] is a bill that is full of gimmicks and smoke and mirrors." You can read Obama's thoughts: "He's got me. I'm busted."

A mere two minutes later (at 3:38 in the video clip), after Ryan has masterfully exposed Obamacare's most shameful gimmicks with precision and utter clarity, Obama looks exactly like a man who's been exposed for having crapped his pants in church and who therefore can't wait for his first chance to rush out of the room:

Cut-away shot of Obama listening to Ryan's exposure of Obamacare's gimmicks and smoke-and-mirrors at the White House Healthcare Summit in 2010

Folks, in my 30 years of practicing law, I've seen this sort of look over and over again from the witness stand — always from someone who's been caught in a series of lies, and who's about to double-down with more lies when he stops hiding his mouth behind his hand and again begins to speak. Behind those narrowed eyes is fear, and the reason he needs his hand covering his mouth is to help himself master a wave of panic.

And the 2010 performance wasn't a fluke or a one-off: Ryan did it again when he faced off against Obama in June of this year — so effectively, so audaciously, that Ryan received a standing ovation from all of his GOP colleagues who were with him there in the room. As Jennifer Rubin notes today:

[T]hose who don’t understand what all the buzz is about should take time to go back and watch or read the transcripts of [Ryan's] debate with Obama at the health-care summithis SOTU response, his debate with David Brooks at the American Enterprise Institute, his response to Obama’s GMU tirade on the budget and his speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society. Then, they might understand why enthusiasm runs high for him among the best and the brightest in the GOP. Is there a single candidate who could have done all that, plus constructed a budget, devised a tax reform scheme and presented a Medicare reform plan? Republicans better hope there is, be it Ryan or someone equally impressive. Otherwise, as scary as the economy is and as devoid of ideas as the president is, he may get himself reelected simply by pointing at the other guy and saying, “Do you really think this is presidential material?”

Could Barack Obama, hailed by his fans as the greatest debater and orator in the history of the Republic, actually refuse to debate Paul Ryan in the general election if Ryan becomes the GOP nominee? Why, that's unthinkable! Exactly as unthinkable, indeed, as was the possibility in 2008 that while excoriating Republicans for trying to buy their way into power, the Democratic nominee might forego federal campaign financing that he'd solemnly promised to accept, and to instead use shady credit card contributions, including from illegal foreign donors, to outspend said Republicans by a three-to-one ratio.

On the national political stage, Ryan has already emerged as his generation's most effective leader, and not just in word but in deed. I can applaud and approve of the leadership and state-level accomplishments of Gov. Perry, or of other governors like Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Nikki Haley, or Scott Walker. I can appreciate the skill with which Mitt Romney rescued the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, succeeded in business, and swam upstream as a GOP governor in the bluest of blue states. They all have executive experience that, objectively, Ryan lacks. But they all lack the national-level experience that Ryan has. And no one, at any level in or out of government, has the incredible mastery of national domestic policy and the ability to effectively change it for the better that Ryan has already shown.

We don't have to speculate on whether Ryan could perform as POTUS. The actual legislation he's already written and passed through the House would already have turned this country around. All that stopped him was a handful of Democratic senators who lacked the courage to break party discipline and a president who can't be voted out until November 2012. Already, with only one-half of one of the three branches of the federal government behind him, Paul Ryan has performed courageously and brilliantly; his near-miracles in the House are achingly close to being absolute miracles for the country as a whole. And no state governor, no matter how experienced or effective as an executive, can make that claim.

The GOP has developed a "deep bench" during the eight years that George W. Bush was in the White House and the three years since then — and I'm very proud and excited about that. But Paul Ryan is the MVP.

Posted by Beldar at 03:43 AM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Congress, Obama, Politics (2011), Ryan | Permalink


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(1) Judith L made the following comment | Aug 20, 2011 11:35:02 AM | Permalink

I've been waiting for you to weigh in on Perry. I think I have my answer. You've presented the most cogent case for Ryan I have read.

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Aug 20, 2011 6:15:07 PM | Permalink

Judith, thank you for the comment and the kind words. You've prompted me to add an update to my original post, above, and I've also made some non-substantive edits for clarity in the original post.

(3) CROG made the following comment | Aug 21, 2011 12:20:38 AM | Permalink

Beldar, you've convinced me. I hope Ryan runs. I can't wait for the current man in the White House to leave it.

(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Aug 22, 2011 1:37:58 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Nope, I still disagree with you. Paul Ryan is a fine fellow, but if he runs in 2012, the odds are much too high that he will suffer the same fate as Sarah Palin: he will have run too soon, and be spoiled for any future runs. I detest feeling this way, because Ryan is a bright star. Why don't I agree with you? well:

a) executive experience and leadership: Executive experience has been a touchstone, because we've seen what happens when we get someone with no EE, i.e. The One, Kennedy, Harding. There's a wretched average for you. But having it doesn't guarantee results either. Taft, Hoover, and the Bumpkin Carter all had a fair or more amount of EE and were knocked down and rolled out flatter than the proverbial pancake.

I also think your definition of EE is much too vague and doesn't cover points it needs to. You write: "...we value executive experience in general because it often correlates with effectiveness in identifying problems, finding solutions, and then effectively implementing them. People who effectively enlist others to join together to accomplish those things thereby prove themselves as leaders."

That's too vague. Take entitlements. Both sides have identified the problem (they're unsustainable), both have solutions---oops, neither side can execute its solutions. Yet there have been similar situations in history, where a Prez has successfully overcome the odds. The classic example are the civil rights laws of 1964-65. The Right siders love to claim that a higher percentage of GOPers voted for these bills than did Democrats. This ignores the pernicious effect of Southerners who were DINOs, so far as civil rights were concerned. Yet the bills were voted through. Would you give credit to Everett Dirksen or Charles Halleck, the GOP minority leaders of the time? Nope. Worthy fellows, who deserve some credit, but they weren't leaders. That laurel goes to Lyndon Johnson, who was able to repeat as Prez, the same sort of leadership that got the 1957 civil rights bill enacted.

Compare the situation today. For Ryan to be leading in the way you describe, he would not only have to pass Cut, Cap, and Balance, but he'd a) have to do so with bipartisan support and b) get it through the Senate as well. Here is the proof that a) was not met. The margins of House passage of CC&B were scarcely better than those by which Obamacare was rammed through. b) was not accomplished at all. You could argue that Ryan is not a Senate leader. True. But he wouldn't be a Senate leader if sent to the White House, either. To be sure, the Prez can carry more weight than the House Budget chairman, but as The One has demonstrated, weight carrying doesn't come automatically. I aslo think that if CC&B had had a real chance of passing the Senate and being signed into law, there would have been a sizeable peeling away of GOP support. You can't tell me that such GOP weak sisters such as the totus porcus Don "My Money!" Young of Alaska or witlings such as Fred "Who Needs Incandescent Light Bulbs" Upton would have voted for a measure that would have curtailed their own power. Ryan needed to get Democratic votes. It does no good to rail against "party discipline"; without the votes, no cleanup of the mess is going to be possible. You might hope that there would be enough GOP votes to do the job on party lines, but that means 60 votes in the Senate. Think 2012 is going to bring that? I have big doubts. Even if it does, think of trying to run a Senate where Susan Collins or Oly Snowe of Maine have settled into the Anthony Kennedy Sweet Spot of Power, and have to be wooed, cajoled, and bribed until the devil would scream in frustration.

If you think Ryan can do the same sort of leadership that LBJ did in 1964-65 for civil rights, you might be right. Congress is a fine place to learn about public issues, and unlike the lazy One, Ryan has devoted a lot of time to study and thinking. This makes him miles better than The One, with a solid background that will be part of his armamentarium in the future.

Take another example. Here's an important part of EE: making a budget. A budget is a schedule of needs, with priorities, with money attached to meet these needs. Needs will always outrun the money available to pay for them. An executive's big job is to set priorities. This means having to say "No" to many needs. Many of these needs are genuinely worthy, but just doin't have the urgency in the executive's final judgment to be allocated dough. The great executive can say "No" to her own supporters and their projects without completely losing their support. Franklin Roosevelt was a master at this. Read the diaries of Harold L. Ickes, Roosevelt's Interior Secretary. Again and again, Ickes's requests were turned down by Roosevelt, leaving Ickes fuming---but he never quit. That is an indispensible form of leadership. Reagan finessed this issue when he cut tax rates greatly but b) expanded total government spending more than he cut it. Result: deficits that have run to this day, with an all too short exception in the Billyboy years, and an unfortunate mindset, best expressed by Boss Dick Cheney that "Deficits don't matter." The hell they don't!

Can Paul Ryan prepare a budget that will cut spending in, say, defense? Or in another area, border security? If he can't, he will have to cut entitlements even more, a daunting enough task as is.

I also think you overrate the effect Ryan has had on The One. I watched the vid you linked to, and did not see fear in The One's expression. I saw outrage, in the manner of "How dare he question my numbers!" I've never been persuaded of The One's intelligence despite magna cum laude Harvard Law degree. More than ever I think this degree came about from affirmative action and white liberal guilt. Even if so, I think your practice of the oral advocate's craft is skewing your judgment. The oral arguments before the Supreme Court had a place in the winning of civil rights, but a dam site less than the executive actions in say, voting rights cases, have had.

Difference of opinion makes horse races and elections. I'm still not a Ryan supporter in the primaries. Should he win, I will enthusiastically back him in the general. Whatever his faults, he'll do miles better than The One.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

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