Michael Moynihan has a post up at Reason’s Hit and Run that identifies at least one conservative “leader” who isn’t a talk radio host, or some other pop conservative polemicist.
After excoriating Republicans for spending like Dutch social democrats (and elevating halfwits to important leadership positions), I was asked recently by a radio host to name a Republican qualified to be “leader of the party.” The pickings are slim, but there are a few exceptionally bright, market-oriented contenders out there. So I plugged, with appropriate obsequiousness, the always impressive Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. When I sat down with Ryan last month to discuss Obama’s education policy, he quoted Hayek, talked at length about handing out Rand books to staffers, and discussed his previous life as an economic analyst. Such conversations should be de rigueur with members of the House Budget Committee, but I suspect Ryan is the only one that could name an Austrian economist.
Further proof that the Republican Party needs more Paul Ryans: Yesterday, he beat up on MSNBC host Carlos Watson and The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel regarding the “public option” and why Congress shouldn’t pass bills it hasn’t read. Imagine such a performance from, say, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann:
Indeed, Ryan dispatches vanden Heuval with the greatest of ease:
Prior to hearing the Wisconsin congressman at CPAC, I didn’t know much about the guy. Michael Barone notes in The Almanac of American Politics that Ryan is pretty much a mainstream Republican, although more of a foreign policy centrist. He is a reliable conservative on fiscal matters and toes a pretty conservative line on social issues.
But this fellow is a thinker - a rarity among all politicians and especially among many legislators who call themselves conservatives today.
An example from his CPAC speech:
Our greatest leaders - from Lincoln to Reagan - succeeded because they anchored conservative thinking and policies in the founding principles of our nation. They did so not because of mere “history” or “tradition” - but because they understood the need to revitalize the unchanging truths that inspired the birth of America.
Let those truths inspire us again! Let them re-ignite the sparks of hope for a new generation of Americans who love freedom!
Without enduring principles we get “change” but no direction.
Guided by the founding principles we can direct “change” toward the ends that have made America the envy of the world: Individual freedom … growing prosperity … and equal rights secured by constitutional self-government.
America’s Founders did not discover ideas no one ever heard of. Their great achievement was to build a constitution of equality and liberty upon a foundation of self-evident truths as old as the beginning of mankind and as new as tomorrow.
What are those truths?
First is that the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” are the only sure touchstone of right and wrong … for individuals as well as societies.
A second is that all human beings are created with equal natural rights - the rights to live … to be free … to acquire property - and other means to fulfill our God-given potential for happiness.
Third, and most important for conservatives: The great purpose of government is to secure these natural rights: protecting every person’s life, liberty, and freedom to pursue happiness is the great and only mission of a government true to our founding.
There are very few congressmen who speak so eloquently of First Principles. Now, he frames those principles in a quasi-religious context, which is acceptable to me as long as it goes to fundamental truths espoused by the Founders who, like all natural rights supporters at the time, believed man was created by God and that these rights were simply self-evident manifestations of God’s desires.
His CPAC speech was necessarily more political than philosphical. But read this speech he gave at a Hudson Institute symposium on “Making Conservatism Credible Again:”
“Conservatism” at its best, defends the standards and qualities which define “people of character.” The original source for these standards is the Western tradition of civilization, rooted in reason and faith, stretching back thousands of years. The tradition as a whole affirms the high dignity, rights, and obligations of the individual human person. One of the glories of Western civilization was to break out of the mythological past which saw only groups and classes, ranked and organized by collectivist governments. Before the Western tradition began in ancient Israel and classical Greece, the individual person as a subject of rights was simply unknown.
Nowhere was the Western tradition epitomized more memorably than in our Declaration of Independence. By “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” all human beings are created equal, not in height, or skills, or knowledge, or color, or other nonessentials, but equal in certain inalienable rights – to live, to be free, and to fulfill their best individual potential, including the right to the “material” such as property needed to do this. Each individual is unique and possesses rights and dignity. There are no group or collective rights in the Declaration. Nor does basic human equality imply “equal result.” It means “equal opportunity”: every person has a right not to be prevented from pursuing happiness, from developing his or her potential. The results should differ from one to another because “justice” or “fairness” is giving each individual what each has earned or merited. That’s what fairness is.
The great conservative purpose of government is to secure these natural rights under popular consent. Protecting every person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness should be the great and only mission of legitimate government.
After a stirring defense of the Adam Smith “invisible hand,” Ryan make a thoughtful attempt to unite libertarian and social conservatives by pointing to common ground:
A “libertarian” who wants limited government should embrace the means to his freedom: thriving mediating institutions that create the moral preconditions for economic markets and choice. A “social issues” conservative with a zeal for righteousness should insist on a free market economy to supply the material needs for families, schools, and churches that inspire moral and spiritual life. In a nutshell, the notion of separating the social from the economic issues is a false choice. They stem from the same root.
Take that Huckabee and all of you “crunchy cons.”
I tried to think of some other elected conservative who is making this kind of honest attempt to bring the factions back together and came up empty. Nor can I think of too many conservative legislators who quote Hayek, Mises, and Adam Smith, while speaking the language of social conservatives and espousing a decidedly libertarian economic viewpoint.
But he voted for TARP I which makes him poison to many in the base of the Republican party. I was disappointed so many conservatives voted for the execrable legislation except we have to understand the context. Everyone was being told that if this money didn’t get to the banks right away, there would be a financial meltdown that could lead to a panic which would plunge us into a worldwide, catastrophic depression. They were being told this by a president and Treasury secretary of their own party. They had no clue that the money would be used for everything but buying up those bad assets that were weighing down the balance sheets of the big banks. In my book, they were acting as responsible lawmakers.
For that reason, I am inclined to cut Ryan and others some slack for their vote on TARP I. And his subsequent statements and actions have shown Ryan to be an innovative and creative legislator. His alternative budget would have cut taxes to stimulate the economy the right way and done it in a revenue neutral manner. Just think where we’d be today if his plan had been followed.
I’m not the first to proclaim Ryan a future conservative leader. But I think he needs more exposure than what he’s been getting from conservatives on the internet as well as the pop-conservatives on talk radio. Elevating his stature would seem to be a smart thing to do given the man’s base intelligence and good ideas on a variety of public concerns. His criticisms of Obama have been reasonable, fact based, and without the hyperbole associated with more rabid conservatives in Congress. That too, is a plus in my book.
At age 39, he will be on the national stage for a long time to come. He may or may not run for higher office some day. But he will be an important voice for conservatives regardless of where his political career takes him.