Congressman Paul Ryan,” by Tony Alter

April 11, 2018; New York Magazine

Without going into the details of Paul Ryan’s embarrassing trip through national political leadership, we are pleased to see him on his way back home to “spend time with his family.” An advocate of dismantling the New Deal/Great Society safety net, Ryan had for years preached fiscal “sanity” through unmaking this country’s programs for the most vulnerable. He was a fierce advocate for fiscal conservatism…until he wasn’t, having become an apologist for Trump, a position he carried right through his speech yesterday, as he declared he would not run again.

But, as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait points out, Ryan’s fiscal conservatism, reflected in his much-touted budgets, was highly malleable depending which party was in office. Though they always promoted the elimination and curtailment of many public-sector programs, how much of the gleefulness around such cuts was real support?

As Ed Kilgore writes:

Yes, Republicans did enact a tax cut that, for them, salvaged the year, and that had to be gratifying to the inveterate supply-sider Ryan. But when he talked about reviving his most important passion—“entitlement reform” or in its demagogic form, “welfare reform”—in 2018, he was brusquely shot down by Mitch McConnell and the White House.


What Ryan’s setbacks should have taught him—as they earlier taught Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush—is that there is not and may never be a solid political foundation for a successful assault on popular programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, or even Obamacare, food stamps, and disability benefits. When push comes to shove, even Republican voters are squeamish about implementing their party’s rhetoric supporting the free market or the states as superior mechanisms for providing income security or health care.

So the question now, assuming Ryan has simply gone home to regroup, is what advocates should be doing to reframe the discussion about this country’s priorities.—Ruth McCambridge