Paul Ryan’s Neoconservatism Isn’t Conservative, Just Ask Grover Norquist
WASHINGTON – In case some of you have been enjoying the last days of summer instead of following the columns I’ve written on Paul Ryan, I’ve invoked Ronald Reagan because to understand Romney’s new vice presidential running mate, this is where you need to begin. The reason for this coupling hasn’t been just because of Ryan’s playbook of outlining what conservatism is for, instead of the William F. Buckley narrative of what it’s against, something that hasn’t been done since Reagan started rising. It’s Ryan’s entire philosophy that government’s primary function is defense, with all other budget priorities falling away in order to fund more Pentagon projects and global adventurism. It’s neoconservatism, without apology.
We have a responsibility to speak boldly for those whose voices are denied by the jackbooted thugs of the tired tyrants of Syria and Iran. – Rep. Paul Ryan
This was never clearer than after Iran’s Pres. Ahmadinejad once again spewed that “the existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to humankind.” This brought a flurry of statements through the Romney campaign from Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman, the content of which went from legitimizing Israel bombing Iran to castigating Pres. Obama for some fantasy “lack of leadership” over the Israel – Iran issue. If you don’t believe me that Obama has been a strong supporter and leader on Israel, read Colin Kahl’s piece in Foreign Policy, which takes on the Romney ad at the top of this post.
Mr. Ryan is the embodiment of Republican bootstrapism at its core, but that’s not the thing. Nor is his belief people should be offered equal opportunity, but not equal results, as he phrases it, stealing from his mental mentor Ayn Rand, though if he really understood her he’d see the only thing they have in common is their capitalistic idealism. The holy conservative grail for Ryan is the Reagan dictate that the national security apparatus will never be part of what’s cut, because there is no such thing as military bloat and excess, because America is not only the leading free light of the world, but it’s chief protector and enforcer. Romney’s budgetary plan is to actually increase military spending.
From Eli Lake comes a quote that perfectly encapsulates the Ryan theory of government:
Danielle Pletka, the vice president for foreign- and defense-policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, also praised the Ryan pick. “Unlike a lot of fiscal conservatives, one of the great things about Paul Ryan is he is not omni-directionally a budget cutter,” she said. “[Rep. Paul Ryan] understands the primary role of the federal government is the national defense and not the handing out of food stamps.”
According to Paul Ryan, food stamps and entitlements keep America from being the strongest nation on earth and he’s here to right the equation, literally. Team Romney has now equipped him with the perfect advisor to translate this message, Dan Senor, Pres. George W. Bush’s marketing man on Iraq out of Baghdad.
But out of the blue they’ve found themselves with an adversary and its one of their own and he’s powerful. Grover Norquist, representing the notion that conservatism doesn’t mean neoconservatism, weighed in this week to review Paul Ryan’s brand of Reagan conservatism and he’s not impressed.
“We can afford to have an adequate national defense which keeps us free and safe and keeps everybody afraid to throw a punch at us, as long as we don’t make some of the decisions that previous administrations have, which is to over extend ourselves overseas and think we can run foreign governments,” Norquist said Monday at an event at the Center for the National Interest, formerly the Nixon Center.
But Ryan’s views are at odds with those of Norquist and other budget hawks, who argue that defense budgets can be trimmed. Ryan’s budget plan provides for increasing military spending and doesn’t suggest any tradeoff or specific defense reforms.
“Other people need to lead the argument on how can conservatives lead a fight to have a serious national defense without wasting money,” Norquist said. “I wouldn’t ask Ryan to be the reformer of the defense establishment.”
But Ryan’s 21st century Reaganism has a good chance of damaging Norquist, because for a long time it’s as if all the wishing on the right for another Reagan finally made him manifest. Norquist will never be able to compete with Ryan’s new sex appeal either. If you watched Mr. Ryan in his appearances over this past week, he’s not only prepared to take that mantle forward and get it done, but whether Mitt Romney wins in November or not he’ll be carrying the torch for the duration.
Romney, then Ryan, emerging from the deck of the USS Wisconsin was not just a ticket send off, it was foreshadowing of the ideology represented and the intent to get it done, Reagan style, which doesn’t require a military veterans stamp to utilize the marketing of it.
On foreign policy, John McCain doesn’t hold a candle to Paul Ryan, because he can’t sell it. But if you saw McCain on “Fox News Sunday” last Sunday you got the proof that McCain knows what’s happening. The vigor was back, not because of Romney, but because of Ryan. McCain slamming Pres. Obama from the Green uprising in Iran to allegedly standing by and saying or doing nothing in Syria. The glee as McCain spat out his critique, because he still can’t believe Barack Hussein Obama beat him, was visible under his derision.
Ryan has no hands on experience in foreign policy, but he’s been channeling Reaganism since he started planning his budget. Ryan’s carving a new conservative path in a way we have only seen barely attempted recently. This is a believer, with the rhetorical means and financial talking point wizardry to lay out conservatism, which is really neoconservatism with a credit card, in a way that may make a lot of Republicans and independents turn their heads, because he offers a way to slash and burn the federal bureaucracy through marketing, while actually being a supply-sider, that makes people feel good the military will have shiny new things to show for it.
The argument to be made by Paul Ryan is that Republicanism can be the way to get America’s groove back. The Tea Party embodies some of this, as does Ron Paul, except where Paul went wrong was taking conservatism into the holy grail of Reaganism and daring to include national defense as a budget item to be cut.
And Ryan doesn’t like diplomacy and won’t budget for it, as Josh Rogin wrote about Ryan’s defense ideas in March. Something’s got to give, so Romney-Ryan will have to look to private enterprise for national security solutions, because of their theory of cutting federal workers. That’s not particularly new, because Pres. Bill Clinton led on it. From Rogin:
But apparently Ryan does not believe diplomacy and development are part of that tool kit, because his proposal would see the international affairs account slashed from $47.8 billion in fiscal 2012 to $43.1 billion in fiscal 2013, $40.1 billion in fiscal 2014, $38.3 billion in fiscal 2015, and $38.1 billion in fiscal 2016. The State Department and USAID wouldn’t see their budget get back to current levels until after 2022 if Ryan were to have his way.
Meanwhile, the national defense part of the budget would rise from $561 billion to $603 billion over the same timeframe, according to Ryan’s plan.
Democrats are fixated on domestic cuts and the transformation of entitlements, which is understandable. They are also typically demeaning of Paul Ryan, because he’s a conservative, sneering at a man who they are mistakenly underestimating, partly because he’s Mitt Romney’s running mate.
However, the real sorcery in Mr. Ryan’s calm, assured and easy going pitch is national security, because it targets nationalist heart strings at a time when “America in decline” is palpable. It’s the same playbook Ronald Reagan used while Democrats were fiddling with their sweaters.
This isn’t 1980 and Mitt Romney isn’t Reagan and neither is Paul Ryan, but they don’t have to be to carry the message.
Or maybe the voters will decide it’s a mirage.
Taylor Marsh, a veteran political analyst and former Huffington Post contributor, is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media blog www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women and power.