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Paul Ryan: "Dyed-In-The-Wool-Supply-Sider"

Someday the national political conversation will shift away from Mitt Romney's "retroactive retirement" from Bain Capital and back to the federal budget. When it does, a subset of that conversation will be about the political, philosophical and theological influences on the central figure in contemporary budget debates: House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.Stephen F. Hayes' lengthy profile, "Man With A Plan" in the current issue of the Weekly Standard is a valuable contribution to our collective understanding of Chairman Ryan. Among other things (h/t: Jonathan Chait), Hayes talked with then-Republican staff director for the Senate Small Business Committee and current-Chief of Staff for Sen. Marco Rubio, Cesar Conda:"Ryan (as a college intern in 1990) reported to Cesar Conda, the Republican staff director. Paul at age 19 was the exact same person he is today, Conda recalls. Earnest, personable, and hard-working, with an insatiable appetite for discussing policy ideas. Ryan often popped his head into Condas office with questions about supply-side economics, interruptions that became so frequent Conda had to give Ryan books to keep him occupied. Among them: The Way the World Works, by one-time supply-side guru Jude Wanniski, and George Gilders seminal Wealth and Poverty. (Conda finally recovered his copy of Gilder in 2007, when he noticed it in Ryans office, heavily marked-up.)"Chait has something of a self-confessed obsession with the intellectual influence of Wanniski, Gilder and Ayn Rand (another of Ryan's formative influences) on today's Republican Party; and he takes Hayes' reporting as further evidence for his own conclusion that "though he has passed himself off as a deficit hawk, Ryan actually is a dyed-in-the-wool supply-sider. At his core he believes, for both moral and economic reasons, in holding taxes on the rich low. He has successfully learned to pitch himself to the political center as a debt hawk but the pitch is at odds with his voting record, his current positions, and his own intellectual history."There may be evidence that the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII, and John Paul II had an even more profound impact on the young Paul Ryan's intellectual development, but it doesn't appear in Hayes' story.

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



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Reading the WS story gave me a sense of deja vu. The kid who was too wonkish for high school ... labored at the start of his career to master pop economists like George Gilder ... had his Eureka moment with Jude Wanninski, who had such a good title his book didn't have to make much sense... the "long and lonely fight" to convince fellow Republicans of what they already believed. Who is that?It's Newt Gingrich before he got power and lost his wonkish innocence. In the Dick Armey rewrite of history accepted in corners of the Republican Party, Newt is the Speaker who got along with Bill Clinton so well that fiscal orthodoxy was sold out. (That is the same fiscal orthodoxy that Paul Ryan had to "fight" to sell to his party.) But that came later. Many people may have forgotten the Newt who stood on the brink of redefining civilization in his march toward the speakership, but it all came back to me when I read about Mr. Ryan.Like the later-day Mr. Gingrich, Mr. Ryan seems to impute easily to Catholicism and past popes whatever he thinks about economics. But because he is a wonk, such imputation must, we suppose, be taken seriously.

"When it does, a subset of that conversation will be about the political, philosophical and theological influences on the central figure in contemporary budget debates: House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan."Wouldn't it at this point be more edifying to wade into some policy weeds? I share this feeling over "abstractions" with Reihan Salam: "Were dealing with a specific case of a more general phenomenon, which is that people really like duking it out over abstractions. Ive usually thought of this as a malady that mostly afflicts the political right, i.e., many of us prefer to shift conversations about the appropriate top marginal tax rate to conversations about freedom. But I think years of George Lakoff have finally taken their toll on the political left, and so conversations about high-speed rail are about the kind of person you are are you a Europhobic train-hating rube? rather than conversations about labor laws and the Federal Railroad Administration and how the California High Speed Rail Authority seems to have deep-sixed a promising, cost-effective HSR proposal from SNCF. This is, I realize, an oversimplification. Politics is an adaptive system, and successful politicians learn from experience and do what is necessary to win. Moreover, abstractions are accessible and fun. All the same, I find it extremely unedifying." other words, sure, Ryan is in one view a Randian wolf in sheep's clothing incarnating everything evil about the modern GOP, or alternatively, a wonkier Reagan heralding a shinier city on a hill. But wouldn't it actually move the ball if we started with, say, he and Ron Wyden's Medicare reform proposal rather than more smoke-blowing about this or that nefarious influence lurking in this or that politician?

Jeff Landry, no it wouldn't actually move the ball if we shadow-boxed over the Ryan-Wyden proposal (which does not strike me as desirable or workable) since it is never going to clear the Senate, and everyone including Sen. Wyden and, one presumes, the preternaturally wonkish Rep. Ryan. understands that.Ryan-Wyden glistens in the moonlight like a marble tomb of bipartisanship, but there is nothing in it and no chance, while Sen. Mitchell beathes and the man he considers a usurper occupies the White House, of anything ever getting there. Should Sen. Mitchell have a stroke, Sen. Reid can be counted on to gum up the works.

@Jeff Landry (7/18, 4:51 pm) If, in fact, Paul Ryan is "a Randian wolf in sheep's clothing"---with the Catholic Church's social teachings in the role of "sheep's clothing"---then it seems to me there's at least some value in identifying the wolf for what he is. (If he's not, then there's value in clearing that up, too.)What I suspect will "move the ball" in terms of the national political conversation will be when the fall campaign season gets rolling. At that point the presidential candidates may be forced to explain and defend their policy proposals. So far, Gov. Romney has shown little inclination to explain and defend many of his policies (e.g., Paul Ryan's budget). Pres. Obama's campaign has made a strategic decision to spend this month attempting to "define" Romney---and in particular, to define him by his tax returns and his tenure at Bain Capital.Apparently one reason they've taken that tack is their polling on Romney's policy proposals indicated that most voters simply didn't/couldn't/wouldn't believe Romney would adopt such radical proposals. Thus, the Obama campaign strategists concluded, attacking those proposals would backfire on them because voters would think they were lying about Romney.

In any meeting, Rep Ryan is the "smartest person in the room." There have been politicians like him before: Bill Clinton, Newt, David Stockton, Richard Holbrooke come to mind.

"If, in fact, Paul Ryan is a Randian wolf in sheeps clothingwith the Catholic Churchs social teachings in the role of sheeps clothingthen it seems to me theres at least some value in identifying the wolf for what he is. (If hes not, then theres value in clearing that up, too.)"I'm just skeptical that anything more said on this will actually either "identify the wolf" or "clear it up". At this point, what could either Ryan or a Ryan supporter say that would "clear it up"? I guess you could go to someone who supports some of Ryan's proposals AND that you acknowledge is formed in "the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII, and John Paul II" (say Rick Garnett at Notre Dame) and ask how they square the circle. But beyond that, I just don't see unwrapping this onion as yielding signficantly new insights to move the needle. I suspect like most Catholics, Ryan has reached many of his positions by a circuitous route, and to some extent is grappling with how they square with his understanding of Catholic doctrine.I'm not sure I appreciate your point re: the nature of Romney's campaign and polling. To the extent it's a lament about hte lack of specificity, then it's a lament I share about both sides.

ISTM that as long as Catholic social doctrine is as general as it is that there will be arguments about its specifications. To hold that the higher governmental structures should perform functions when the lower ones cannot is a principle so broad that radicals such as Ryan can claim it as their own. But what does "should" perform certain functions mean? It does seem to mean that the higher government *must* act when the lower *cannot*. But does it also mean that the higher should act when the lower has simply *failed to act*? And what constitutes failure? How should/can economic failure be judged? Economic measures when taken usually do not have immediate results, and ISTM that a great deal of argument is spent on whether or not an economic action has failed or not. For instance, has the Obama stimulus failed? Not to mention that establishing the causes of economic failure seems to be beyond the economists' current capacity.

"There may be evidence that the writings of Thomas Aquinas, Leo XIII, and John Paul II had an even more profound impact on the young Paul Ryans intellectual development, but it doesnt appear in Hayes story."What evidence? That Ryan's heard of the word "subsidiarity"? For that, one need dig no deeper into Catholic social doctrine than neocon reactions to episcopal documents over the past 30 years. To them, the principle of "subsidiarity" comes down to "need not apply to the American experience, so move along." Which hardly amounts to a profound impact. If the Ryan budget is any example of some "profound impact" of Catholic social thinking on Ryan's intellectual development, saints preserve us.

The Waninski influence is certainly troubling.

I just want to add that I'm with the Nuns on the Bus who shape their views in real life exoeriences with the poor.I'm with anoher Ryan, Msgr. Jerry, covered in an excellent NYT article the other day -still serving the poor in one of the poorest parishes in NY -St. Lucy's in the Bronx - still going strong at 93/ (I commend Fotst Things for noting the article but disagree there are many young priests coming along like that.)His story made me think of the deceased Jesuit Gene Palumbo wrote about earlier this year who srved among the poor of Central america and in that service of real exoerience "fell in love" with the poor.You can argue all you want about how well shaped the Congressman's view of Cartholic values is, be it JPII or Rand, but from whetre I sit the real life experieces of those serving the poor are far removed from his ideological world.

More conservative rattrap: This stuff about Ryan's supposed "moral roots" in Catholic social doctrine is all concocted in order to put lipstick on a really ugly pig. It's laughable on its face. Unfortunately, given the Republican spin machine, it will probably work.Ryan is a political shill, sell-out and prostitute for crony corporate and casino capitalists.Ryan is one more confirmation for me of why I'm not a Republican: I learned to read when I was five years old.

And you wonder, Luke, why I'm doubtful that further "discussion" will yield fruit?~ Signed an illiterate, prostitute, shill sell-out for crony capitalism.

Thanks everyone, for the comments so far. I think (contra Jim Jenkins @ 1:42 pm) that Chait's observation/conclusion that Chairman Ryan is a "dyed-in-the-wool supply-sider" lends credence to the argument that Ryan is *not* a sell-out. Rather, within the constraints of contemporary American politics, he's been remarkably consistent both in his political/intellectual views and in his efforts to advance them throughout his adult life---since age 19 (at least) according to Hayes' reporting.Ryan apparently experienced a great sense of intellectual excitement, discovery and ferment when he first encountered the writings of Rand, Gilder and Wanniski. There's a part of me that wishes there were evidence of him having a similar experience in his encounters with Catholic social teaching---whether embedded in scripture, Aquinas' "Summa Theologica", the documents of Vatican II or the lived experience of a community of faith.

"Theres a part of me that wishes there were evidence of him having a similar experience in his encounters with Catholic social teachingwhether embedded in scripture, Aquinas Summa Theologica, the documents of Vatican II or the lived experience of a community of faith."Luke, it seems to me that the basis for your so concluding is that he doesn't share your particular political commitments, and therefore you seem predisposed to conclude that Ryan, as well as any Catholic who doesn't share those commitments, has not had an encounter with "Catholic Social Teaching." Otherwise, what is your basis for this conclusion? Whether one agrees with this understanding of subsidiarity, for example, certainly one ought to at least give him some credit for wrestling with it.Furthermore, what impact is this encounter of his supposed to have on whether one can conclude that Ryan, in some matters and on some points, is correct? In other words, can one who has had such an encounter still come to the conclusion that Ryan's entitlement reforms, to take a particular example, are the correct ones?

I would like to hear of any instance in history, just one, where "supply side" economics has worked to the benefit of the working and middle classes.Any takers from among you folks who are experiencing that rush of "a great sense of intellectual excitement, discovery and ferment" about Ryan???

"Luke, it seems to me that the basis for your so concluding is that he doesnt share your particular political commitments, and therefore you seem predisposed to conclude that Ryan, as well as any Catholic who doesnt share those commitments, has not had an encounter with Catholic Social Teaching. "Having spent a fair amount of time on the Conference of Catholic Bishops website, http:/ and reading various Catholic or Catholic oriented publications, as well a 64 years of life as a Catholic, I can say, Paul Ryan's politics suggest a significant lack of understanding of Catholic teachings.

@Jeff Landry (7/20, 5:47 pm) Yes, by all means Ryan deserves credit for at least wrestling with the notion of subsidiarity as he did in his speech at Georgetown earlier this year. And it's possible that his initial adult encounter with the Church's social teachings was similar to his encounter with Gilder, Rand and Wanniski's writings. (I just haven't come across any description of it yet.)I recall my own sense of excitement, when I was not much older than Ryan was when he first worked on Capitol Hill as a college intern, at encountering Catholic social teaching. Among other things, it changed the way I view, evaluate and critique American politics (most definitely including American liberalism), and the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment intellectual thought on which is it so heavily based. (Some other examples: William Whyte's "City" changed the way I think about urban design and development; Dave Marsh's "The Heart of Rock & Soul" changed the way I listen to pop music.)I wasn't criticizing Ryan for *not* having had such an experience with Catholic social teaching. (Perhaps he did!) But I haven't come across that story yet, if it exists. If it does exist, I'll be interested to read it.

Jim--Laffer has shown it has worked whereever it's been tried. He cites specifically how it worked during the Kennedy and Reagan presidencies.

"At his core he believes, for both moral and economic reasons, in holding taxes on the rich low."This is a tendentious and unfair characterization of Ryan's position for a number of reasons, including:Doesn't Ryan want lower tax rates for everyone, not just the rich? Why is Chait trying to pit American against American with this locution?"Holding" taxes low presumes they are low now--based on what? When is a tax "low" or "high"? If Chait can't state Ryan's position fairly, how can we trust his conclusions?

@Luke Hill:Thanks for your response, but I'm not suggesting you are criticizing him for not having an encounter. Rather, I'm saying that I remain doubtful that if Ryan were to provide some evidence of his encounter with Catholic Social Teaching that it would be satisfactory to you (and others). I say that because it seems to me that implicit in your criticism of Ryan is the assumption that if Ryan (and other Catholics) had the same kind encounter you describe yourself as having, then they would come down on policy where you do. In other words, I doubt that anything Ryan says about his reading of CST would satisfy the drafters of the Georgetown letter, for example (short of his abandoning most of his current policy positions, that is).But I think this goes beyond Ryan himself (and I think it a mistake to make it all about Ryan's personal encounter, just as I do with Nancy Pelosi's peculiar understandings of CST) and to the issue of Catholics in general. While certainly no "expert" on CST, in the course of 18+ years of theological education (Catholic HS, Jesuit undergrad, post-grad work), I've read & re-read CST. I've been all over the place politically with respect to them (generally moving from liberal to more conservative), & while there are parts of Ryan's budget I disagree with (primarily his domestic spending cuts & defense spending), I do think that (1) Ryan accurately describes the fiscal situation of the country with respect to the federal budget, & (2) his entitlement spending reforms are within the realm of acceptable from a CST POV, in addition to being the right ones. (I have to add that a large part of my so concluding is the "encounter" I've had with the work by Ryan & Alice Rivlin, along with Bowles-Simpson, Wyden-Bennett, Rivlin-Domenici, & various other policy wonks, writers, bloggers, policy papers, etc.). So the larger question: do my (and other Catholics) conclusions with respect to Ryan's proposals accord with an encounter with CST? If not, & it amounts to a "dissent" from Church teaching, is it a legitimate dissent? How should that dissent be treated, both by the hierarchical Church, & the "informal" magisterium comprised of theologians/Catholic opinion makers?

Jeff --Thanks for the concise articulation -- "legitimate dissent". It is a huge issue in theology, ethics, politics and everything else concerned with values and authority.Vatican II recognized that there is such a thing but didn't offer any theological criteria for it. it seems to me that a dissenter, for his dissent to be legitimate, must offer reasons for the dissent or criticize the faults in current teachings, and must do so in a manner that is not self-defeating (i.e., insulting to the opposition). But beyond such obvious criteria, where to draw the line?In practice the notion of "authority" seems to be the counter-weight to legitimate dissent. I think its meaning and the value(s) it defends need articulation even more that "legitimate dissent".

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