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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ryan's silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich

John Hinderaker at Power Line has posted an interesting analysis by an unidentified reader on the subject of Ryan versus Gingrich. I'm not assuming that Mr. Hinderaker thereby necessarily agrees with everything (or even anything) his reader has written, but among his reader's most provocative assertions was this initial one:

The Ryan budget represents, in part, a political power play by its author. Ryan understands that his plan has no chance of becoming law this year or next. His goal is to shape the budget debate and, if possible, dictate the Republican position in that debate. I have it on very good authority that Ryan specifically intended through his budget proposal to constrain the eventual Republican presidential nominee on the core issues that his plan raises.

If I understand this correctly, it amounts to a grave charge that Paul Ryan is mounting a well-conceived, practical, and sustained effort to be, as the chair of the House Budget Committee, a national leader in passing the House budget into law as soon as that can be accomplished. If true, this seems to me a very desirable feature, not a bug. I'm unconcerned and, instead, favorably impressed by these accusations of competency and effectiveness. Is there something not to like about those qualities, or Chairman Ryan's demonstration of them?

Mr. Hinderaker's reader goes on:

[F]rom the perspective of a legitimate contender for the Republican presidential nomination[,] ... Ryan's power play seems unwelcome. A rational candidate would always want the maximum freedom to stake out policy positions. And he certainly would not want to come under pressure a year and a half before the election to take a potentially unpopular position on Medicare reform.

Rational (in the short run) and gutless, perhaps.

*******

Friends and neighbors, we can't kick the can down the road to some time past the 2012 presidential election before we come to grips with the entitlement programs that most imminently threaten our national solvency. We can't put the showdown off until some future election.

To win the 2012 election, to re-take the White House and re-take the Senate with a decent majority, we must —
  • hold Obama and his party accountable for their dismal economic record since January 2009;

  • prove that the GOP has a rational, detailed, and credible plan to fix things (a "path to prosperity"), even though it (like any such plan) must contain hard and unpopular choices that the Dems will relentlessly (and transparently) demagogue regardless of their substance; and

  • vividly confirm that Obama and his party blocked the GOP plan even though they have nothing to offer but more of what we've seen since January 2009: the same old tax-spend-and-regulate, albeit on a scale that would have staggered even Lyndon Johnson or Franklin Roosevelt.

For all that to happen, it is absolutely essential that long before November 2012, and certainly by the end of the GOP primaries, the GOP's congressmen, senators, and presidential candidate all speak with one voice on the federal budget. Whether Ryan's that presidential candidate (as I'd like to see) or not, because of the House vote, it's already essentially certain that — perhaps with GOP senators' tweaks and improvements — the Path to Prosperity will be the substance of what that one voice needs to be saying.

In law, there's a concept called "ready, willing, and able." Sometimes one side to a proposal or a contract will demand that the other demonstrate that it can actually perform in accordance with its representations. To satisfy that demand, the other side demonstrates that it stands ready, willing, and able.

So simply put, unless and until someone on the GOP side comes up with improvements to the House plan or something to replace it outright, the GOP needs to make the strongest possible showing that before the November 2012 election, the GOP, as a party, stood ready, willing, and able to pass the House budget and send it to Obama. To the credit of Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and nearly the entire House GOP, the House has already done that with a message-sending record vote in which all but four GOP representatives voted for the Ryan plan.

It was already improbable, but the recent collapse of the Gang of Six makes it nearly certain that Senate isn't up to independently replicating or superseding Chairman Ryan's and the House GOP's work. I hope that some GOP senators may suggest useful improvements or modifications to the Path, and I'm certainly not ruling out that possibility. (Nor are Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House GOP.) But the election results from 2010, plus the four-year presidential election cycle, effectively dictated the relative potential contributions of the House and Senate GOP contingents for the leadup to the 2012 election.

The 2010 election also put the resulting GOP Chairman of the House Budget Committee into position as the House's key member on the 2012 election's key issues — and Chairman Ryan is performing appropriately, I'd even say superlatively, from that position.

Now we must put every Democrat in the Senate on record on cloture votes — repeatedly — on not only the House budget and any proposed improvements to it, but also as many other spending votes as possible. And it's entirely likely that we'll have several more opportunities for that: In addition to whole debt ceiling issue, we're likely to have several more continuing resolution struggles while the Senate remains deadlocked, all the way through Tuesday, November 6, 2012, on any comprehensive budget for FY2012 (much less FY2013, which begins on October 1, 2012). 

So I respectfully but emphatically disagree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader: It's entirely rational to expect serious GOP presidential contenders to start taking definitive positions on entitlement reforms now, early enough in the primary process for it to matter. If any rational candidate has an equally detailed budget he or she wants to offer up in lieu of the Path to Prosperity that the House is now committed to, then great — just lay it out there, take the same risks that Chairman Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and the House Republicans have, and act like a grown-up who's deserving of the public's respect.

*******

But Mr. Gingrich laid out neither improvements nor credible alternatives. He didn't contribute to solving any problems, he just tried to sprint in the opposite direction from Chairman Ryan because he (Mr. Gingrich) was afraid that taking a stand would make him politically radioactive. To clean up a bawdy Texas idiom, Mr. Gingrich stomped on his own genitals in the process, and then sent his flak out to proclaim, "Oh, but look — through the billowing smoke and dust of tweets and trivia! — at how surpassingly fine and big those genitals are!" Brave Sir Newt, ex-history professor and author who now demands script approval and re-write privileges from history. Real life doesn't offer the same opportunities to "revise and extend remarks" that the House or Senate traditionally, and by unanimous consent, permit their members to use to massage the Congressional Record.  

I'm not saying Mr. Gingrich is into, or even close to, John Edwards territory yet in terms of self petard-hoisting, but I can't see how he salvages his campaign. Who's going to write this guy a campaign check now? Only those who also bet on 90-to-1 longshots at the horse tracks, methinks.

*******

Apart from any remaining insinuation that there's something wrong with Chairman Ryan doing his job in pushing for the House budget, I do agree with Mr. Hinderaker's reader's observations in his or her penultimate paragraph, and in part with the observations in his or her concluding paragraph (link and ellipsis in original):

Where do things stand now, In light of the well-deserved backlash? Just about where Ryan wants them to stand, I believe. As the estimable policy star Yuval Levin, one of Ryan's biggest cheerleaders, put it yesterday, "Whatever else may be said about this week's Gingrich contortions, one thing is clear: Paul Ryan and the House Republican budget have the strong support of an exceptionally broad array of conservatives — from the DC establishment to the talk radio world to the grass roots and the Tea Party.... All contenders for the Republican nomination should take note."

They should, indeed. But those contenders with a serious chance of facing the full electorate, not just a broad array of conservatives, should proceed with caution. It was Gingrich's rush of blood to the head, not his instinctive understanding of the risks associated with unequivocal support for the Ryan budget, that landed him in so much trouble.

This pre-primary season is turning out to be — appropriately! — the Season of Political Land Mines. I am grudgingly grateful to Donald Trump for throwing himself on the Birther landmine and thereby simultaneously removing both the single most ridiculous issue and candidate from the GOP fold.

Mr. Gingrich's explosive misstep, by contrast, didn't spare the rest of his party from collateral damage, but rather inflicted it in non-trivial amounts, and on an issue of surpassing importance. And Mr. Gingrich has no legitimate excuse for such clumsy fratricide; if he wanted to remain gutless on entitlements reform for some further weeks or even months, he ought to have had the political skills and sense to simply remain vague. I agree that Mr. Gingrich was rash, but I disagree that other candidates ought to consider emulating Mr. Gingrich's substantive gutlessness, whether rashly or not.

Ultimately, however, I agree that the silver lining in l'affaire de l'explosion Gingrich is indeed that it's helping focus the party on, and unite the party behind, the Path to Prosperity. That makes all the more compelling the potential — albeit still entirely hypothetical — presidential candidacy of the Grand Old Party's best spokesman on the Path. With no implied disrespect to Speaker Boehner, I agree with Yuval Levin that Chairman Ryan is increasingly revealing himself to be the GOP's most consequential and even indispensable national leader. 

Posted by Beldar at 06:13 AM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Congress, Obama, Politics (2011), Ryan | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Beldar made the following comment | May 19, 2011 6:30:45 AM | Permalink

Apologies in advance, with knowledgeable corrections solicited, for my "Google language tools"-quality French in the title and at the end of this post. I thought about stealing Dr. Krauthammer's quip from last night: "I'm not sure [Gingrich] is toast. More of a collapsed soufflé."

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