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Paul Ryan, the Establishment’s Idea of a Radical

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A common failing among political activists is the inability to see political decisions and situations from the point of view of those they may disagree with. Activists are by their nature ideological rather than pragmatic and frequently the decisions made by political leaders who have moved beyond their activist roots are made based on considerations which are purely practical and are based on only a very loose understanding of what will really satisfy the activists who make up the various grassroots constituencies they are trying to appeal to.

So if you’re a highly motivated Liberty Republican, a Ron Paul supporter or an ideological libertarian working within the Republican party, I’m going to ask you to try to think outside the box for a little while here while looking at the selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.

From our liberty activist perspective Paul Ryan is pretty much just another establishment Republican hack. With 7 terms under his belt he’s been in office too long. His voting record is utterly uninspiring and shows no real sign of acting on fiscally conservative principles. He’s a big military supporter and never saw a domestic security clampdown or foreign military adventure he didn’t like. Plus he’s about as hardcore a religious conservative as you can find in office. Despite all these indisputable facts, I’m going to suggest that Paul Ryan is still a major concession to the liberty movement within the Republican Party.

Remember that the party establishment is not ideological. All they care about is getting things done, particularly getting their party in power and being able to satisfy the constituencies which keep them in office year after year. They are not inherenly hostile to the best interests of the country or to ideological principles, but they are more loyal to those who provide the enormous amounts of money it takes to get elected or who can provide them with blocks of reliable votes in their home districts. They are made very nervous by any politician who seems too ideological and whose decisions are likely to be unpredictable and deviate from the general strategy of maintaining power and avoiding change.

Now try to get into their heads. From their perspective politicians like Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn and Jeff Flake and even Paul Ryan are radical firebrands because they occasionally come up with an innovative idea or stand firm on an issue for reasons of principle. Not very often, but just enough to make the leadership nervous while still largely satisfying their desire for people to stick with the program. From this perspective politicians like Rand Paul or Justin Amash are positively terrifying because they will consistently challenge the system and operate on an alternative agenda which the establishment is constitutionally incapable of understanding.

The establishment of the Republican party has a general idea that the grassroots are not happy with them. They have encountered the Tea Party and it scared them. They have heard about the liberty movement and dismissed it as so far outside of their worldview as to be irrelevant. They cannot deal with the more ideological elements of the grassroots because operating on ideology is so far outside their experience that they have no tools to deal with it. There’s no way to fit it into their strategy except as a force to somehow be placated with the right rhetoric and symbolic gestures, but most of them don’t have enough contact with the party base to really know what it is asking for. They got huge numbers of phonecalls and emails for Audit the Fed, so they voted for it to throw us a bone, not really understanding that it is merely the tip of the spear of legislative reform which many are demanding, and figuring that somehow that one vote protects and legitimizes them. They stepped outside their box to support that issue and from their perspective that is a huge concession to popular demands.

They have established a norm for the party and varying even slightly from that norm is viewed as dangerously radical. Here’s where Paul Ryan comes in. Paul Ryan came up with a budget plan which included actual Medicare reform and budget cuts. From our perspective the plan is kind of pathetic and inadequate, a mostly symbolic gesture in the right direction which produces mediocre results. But from an establishment perspective it’s absolutely revolutionary because doing anything except voting for more spending and more pandering is absolutely radical.

From that viewpoint, selecting Ryan as the vice presidential candidate is an enormously bold move and a major concession to what their very limited worldview tells them are the concerns of the grassroots. Ryan is more fiscally conservative than they are comfortable with. He is more of an initiator and policymaker than they feel safe with. He’s effective enough that they find him somewhat threatening. From an establishment’s myopic perspective Paul Ryan is an absolute flame breathing radical. He may not seem that way in comparison to Ron Paul, but most of them are not even capable of mentally accepting the ideological views which drive Ron Paul. They don’t take his views or the views of those who support him into consideration at all, because they dismiss them as aberrant and outside of the political mainstream.

The idea of compromising with Ron Paul or making a concession to Liberty Republicans is absolutely inconceivable. It would be like pandering to cows or chickens. Only the most perspective among the party leaders have even noticed that the liberty movement can raise money and turn out votes, and even they have no idea how to court that constituency. In that position of uncomprehending ignorance the selection of Ryan represents what the establishment sees as an enormous concession. They can’t imagine selecting someone more radical than Ryan and they assume that Ryan is such a strong libertarian (OMG, he reads Ayn Rand!) that he will make everyone happy, bring the Paul supporters on board, fire up the tea party and win over libertarian-leaning independents.

In reality the response in the grassroots has been fairly tepid. Some of the more sold-out tea party groups which have been taken over by the religious right are genuinely excited. But the more ideological groups and those who are real Liberty Republicans have reacted with anything from boredom to outrage. From the perspective of real radical activists Ryan is so close to the establishment norm as to be indistinguishable, just as from the establishment perspective he’s far enough out of the norm to appear like a real concession to the radicals.

The problem with these two conflicting worldviews is that ideological voters are not likely to be terribly forgiving or understanding of an establishment they view more and more as a major part of the problem in our political system. We don’t see what a huge concession Ryan is from the perspective of those in power, we just see how far he is from our ideals and feel disappointed. It’s possible that this is not the right reaction. In analyzing any action the intent behind that action is enormously important. Yes, Ryan isn’t what we wanted, but acting within their limitations, the selection of Ryan shows a clear intent from the establishment to offer a concession to the more radical pro-liberty elements within the party.

That said, it’s possible that we ought to be scoring the Ryan selection as a major victory for liberty because it is a sign of the establishment stepping outside of their comfort zone and offering us something they think is significant. It’s like when your senile grandmother gives you a pair of used socks for Christmas. You don’t like the socks and you don’t want the socks, but you have to appreciate her intent to do what she thought was something nice, even if the result was horribly disappointing. You welcome the old socks with enthusiasm and don’t express your inner dismay, either because you respect her and feel sorry for her, or at the very least because you hope she’ll leave you some money in her will.

Ultimately, if we object to Ryan, if we raise the roof with outrage, they’re sufficiently out of touch that they won’t understand and will just get confused and offended. If we accept their lame gift with a winning smile that makes them think they did the right thing, that makes them feel good about us and next time the gifts may be more generous and they’ll write us into the will and we will eventually inherit it all.

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About Dave Nalle

Dave Nalle is Executive Director of the Texas Liberty Foundation, Chairman of the Center for Foreign and Defense Policy, South Central Regional Director for the Republican Liberty Caucus and an advisory board member at the Coalition to Reduce Spending. He was Texas State Director for the Gary Johnson Presidential campaign, an adviser to the Ted Cruz senatorial campaign, Communications Director for the Travis County Republican Party and National Chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus. He has also consulted on many political campaigns, specializing in messaging. Before focusing on political activism, he owned or was a partner in several businesses in the publishing industry and taught college-level history for 20 years.
  • Igor

    Every step, every phase, of the “Curiosity” flight to Mars was designed, calculated and implemented using Newtonian Mechanics, which is more than 300 years old. Fortunately, the laws of physics don’t go out of fashion, like the lengths of womens skirts.

  • Igor


    And yet the flight of “Curiosity” to Mars was planned and controlled by Newtonian Physics.

    “…I’d say that both of them are about 50 years behind the current thinking.”

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Les –

    there are pockets of poverty in the U.S. that are worse than that in some third world countries.

    Are you saying that there are pockets of poverty in the U.S. that are worse than the poverty in third world countries? If so, I’d really like to hear some examples. Otherwise, you’re just comparing apples to oranges because in most third world countries there are pockets of prosperity that compare to the nicer areas of America, but I know of NO place in America that compares to the poverty I’ve seen in third world nations I’ve seen.

  • Zingzing

    And Cuba… Really?

  • Zingzing

    Les, you referring to the USA as a third world nation has some dramatic irony…

  • Les Slater

    Countries that are considered third world vary greatly. I consider Cuba to be a third world country. Within many third world countries there is a great disparity of wealth between various sectors of the population.

    I am absolutely positive that there is extreme poverty in some third world countries but there are pockets of poverty in the U.S. that are worse than that in some third world countries.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Les –

    I lived about four months of the past year in a third-world country, and no, America is NOT beginning to “look like a third-world nation”. We’re not even close. We as a nation largely have zero clue as to what true poverty is. Here’s a few observations I’ve made over the years about life there.

  • Les Slater


    The U.S., in many ways and in many areas, is beginning to look like a third world nation.


  • Glenn Contrarian

    What I want to know is why it is that all first-world nations (outside the oil-rich Middle East) run largely on Keynesian principles, yet none of them have devolved into third-world status. Sure, the ones in the EEC are going through a rough time, but none of them are in danger of losing first-world status.

    Yet, on the flip side of the coin, there’s lots of nations that have small, weak governments with little or no regulation of the corporate sector and low taxes for all, yet none of them have risen to first-world status.

    Why is that? It couldn’t be that the single greatest precept of conservative economics – that of austerity in government – could be wrong, could it? Naaaaahhhh…because that’s something that Must Not Be Questioned, and how dare I even bring up the possibility!!!!

  • Baronius

    Nice one, Clavos, but I’ve got a better sarcastic answer.

    Q: I don’t know anyone who calls themselves a “Keynesian”, do you? Would you refer to a physicist who uses “F = g((m1*m2)/R**2) as a “Newtonian”?

    A: I’d say that both of them are about 50 years behind the current thinking.

  • Clav

    I don’t know anyone who calls themselves a “Keynesian”

    I’m not surprised

  • Igor

    @18-Baronius: I don’t know anyone who calls themselves a “Keynesian”, do you? Would you refer to a physicist who uses “F = g((m1*m2)/R**2) as a “Newtonian”?

  • Igor

    @19-Les: this kind of cost-kiting has been reported to me by many people. It makes it look like the InsCo is doing a better job than they really are.

  • Clav

    Clav has never read a word written by JM Keynes

    Igor, I took two years (four semesters) of economics, both micro and macro, in college, so stuff your innuendo.

  • Clav

    One example of ripoff is I have a statin, specifically pravastatin, prescribed by my primary care physician. I have paid a $12 co-pay for a 90 day supply. A notice says that retail price is $167.99 and that my insurance saved me $155.99. But if I actually do buy retail, the price, without any insurance, is $10. The $167.99 is a totally fictitious number and the insurance I pay for actually would save me a minus $2.

    I’ve encountered the same thing, Les. I’ve also paid as much as $150 at retail for meds I pay a $5 co-pay for when buying with insurance. Usually, I suspect the pharmacy of screwing up, rather than the insurance co., but you could be right — or maybe we both are…

  • Clav

    How does the corp YOU work for do it?

    I am my own (Subchapter S) corp, and I don’t provide myself any benefits (But I am forced to pay into Social Security).

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    Yet again, instead of reading the message, you reject it because of who the messenger is. That, sir, is why you’re unable to see both sides of the story – because you will only listen to those who say what you want to hear.

    Enjoy your Governor Scott, the one who was running a health insurance company that was ripping off Medicare – and the American taxpayer – while all the time saying how bad Medicare is.

  • Les Slater

    Private insurance is a fraud too. I have private prescription insurance coverage that I pay for.

    One example of ripoff is I have a statin, specifically pravastatin, prescribed by my primary care physician. I have paid a $12 co-pay for a 90 day supply. A notice says that retail price is $167.99 and that my insurance saved me $155.99. But if I actually do buy retail, the price, without any insurance, is $10. The $167.99 is a totally fictitious number and the insurance I pay for actually would save me a minus $2.

  • Baronius

    Igor, I don’t recall Clavos ever mentioning Keynes. He’s rejected Keynesians, and I’m pretty sure we both agree that people who call themselves Keynesians these days have little to do with Keynes or his writings.

  • Igor

    Clav has never read a word written by JM Keynes yet considers himself fit to condemn the man and his ideas.

  • Igor

    Where can I read about that $6billion ripoff you talk about, Clav?

    The USPS has been making profits for years, but the Bush congress in 2006 passed a law that forces USPS to pre-fund 75 years of employee benefits with 10 years, which has forced all their profits into pre-funding.

    Is there even ONE corporation in America that could survive such a pre-funding requirement? Indeed, is there a corporation that can survive ANY pre-funding requirement?

    All the corps I know about plan to pay all future benefits with future revenue (although they usually keep a small slush fund, which they have the right to raid for higher corporate needs, like big bonuses to execs).

    How does the corp YOU work for do it? Do they pre-fund? Do you even have the courage to ask? I remember asking that very question when I was young and foolish and my reward was to be stifled for years.

  • Clav

    And by the way, who perpetrates much of that Medicare fraud? The PRIVATE health insurance industry

    Actually, no. According to the FBI, most of it is perpetrated by Medicare’s equipment suppliers, particularly those dealing in DME (Durable Medical Equipment — beds, wheelchairs, prosthetics, etc.), and I found that to be absolutely true while caring for my dying wife — virtually everything supplied by Medicare’s “preferred” contractors was overpriced and I could have bought myself at considerably lower prices. Her wheelchair, for example, could have been bought (online, by me) directly from the manufacturer at half the price paid to the “supplier” (read: middleman). When I called Medicare and suggested this, I was rebuffed and dismissed with a curt admonition that “We only buy from approved suppliers.”

    Scamming is rampant. You may poo-poo the fraud as ” a little over one percent. Big Whoop,” but the bottom line is, paraphrasing Everett Dirksen, “A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

  • Les Slater

    Krugman is an idiot stooge of the Democratic Party.

  • Clav

    Haw!! You provide Paul Krugman as your refutation?? Krugman is a Democrat and a Keynesian; reasons enough to disbelieve anything he says about economics.

    To quote his own ending:

    You should always remember:

    1. Don’t believe anything Krugman says.

    2. If you find what Krugman is saying plausible, remember rule 1.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Clavos –

    I just lost my whole reply to #10, but I’ll try to summarize it. $6B/year is a lot, right? But compared to the $551B/year that is Medicare, that fraud comes to a little over one percent. Big Whoop. Even added to the 1-2% (or 6-8%) of admin costs under Medicare, that’s STILL lower than the admin costs of private health insurers and that’s assuming that those private health insurers have zero fraud within their companies.

    And if you go digging for “proof” that Medicare’s admin costs are much higher, try reading this apples to apples comparison first.

    And by the way, who perpetrates much of that Medicare fraud? The PRIVATE health insurance industry. Just ask Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott:

    In 1997, Rick Scott was implicated in the biggest Medicare fraud case in US history, stepping down as CEO of Columbia/HCA after the hospital giant was fined $1.7 billion and found guilty of swindling the government. As Florida’s new governor, Scott is now trying to kill off an anti-fraud database that would track the fraudulent distribution of addictive prescription drugs in Florida, over the protestations of law enforcement officials, Republican state lawmakers, and federal drug policy officials.

    Saying that the private health insurance industry is so much better than Medicare is much like saying that the robbers are much better than the cops.

  • Baronius

    Good article.

  • Clav

    As Medicare’s single payer, the government is currently being ripped off to the tune of $6B a year — $2B right here in Miami alone.

    Yeah, that’s the way to reduce health care costs: let the government handle it; maybe we could turn it over to USPS management.

  • Clav

    And the government, of course, is never opportunistic…


  • Igor

    @5-Glenn: you are exactly right. Insurance swindlers just want to victimize people under duress to whom they can sell policies that sound good but which have escape clauses for them and their companies.

    The only way to get rid of the opportunism is with Single Payer UHC.

  • Les Slater

    The ruling class IS pragmatic. They sometimes dangle a Ron Paul or a Dennis Kucinich as some cheap glitter or a bad joke.

    To even begin to take any of these candidates seriously is sad.

  • FreedomNow

    I think you are absolutely correct and thank you for this.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Dave –

    Are you actually trying to be empathetic with the Republican leadership in this article? Interesting.

    That said, if one looks back in the days of the the Bush era when the Republicans controlled both houses, Paul Ryan’s voting record shows he’s anything but fiscally conservative. Furthermore, concerning Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, you said:

    But from an establishment perspective it’s absolutely revolutionary because doing anything except voting for more spending and more pandering is absolutely radical.

    But here’s the big problem that nobody on either side is talking about with Ryan’s Medicare plan. Dave, I now run an Adult Family Home – I take care of old people – and I can tell you that not that many people in their late seventies and above would be able to go out to the marketplace – much less go online – to shop for a health care plan. What’s worse, if they leave it up to their not-so-young kids, or just as likely, their ‘trusted’ caregivers (especially if they never had children), their children or their caregiver will be strongly tempted to get the cheapest plan available just so they can get their hands on that refund check from the government allowed under the Ryan plan for getting a plan less expensive than the second-cheapest plan out there.

    Old people don’t want to have to go shopping for insurance, Dave, whether online or on mortar-and-brick stores (or – horrors! – the insurance salesman knocking on their doors). This opens our elderly up to yet another level of abuse. It is a truly bad idea.

  • KittenJuggler

    I don’t wish my grandma would die and leave me money. I do wish the RNC dies. The difference is that my grandma loves me and is senile. The RNC wants to trick me and I’m not a simpleton like they obviously think. Paul Ryan is Romney with bad hair. That’s not radical, it’s just fashion averse.

  • Bob Vondruska

    Paul Ryan is definitely not a radical, and if he is, that must make Ron Paul a super radical. The problem is that the idiots in the media who label Paul Ryan’s budget plan as “radical” have no clue as to what the word means. Paul Ryan’s budget plan can actually be called weak and ineffective. It doesn’t cut spending, would add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years, and would take 30 years to actually balance the budget. What is so radical about that?
    Ron Paul’s budget plan on the other hand would cut $1 trillion in just the first year alone, end wasteful overseas spending, dismantle 5 federal departments, and would balance the budget in only 3 years. When you compare these two plans, the only thing that is radical is the difference between these two plans. Paul Ryan is just another Yes man with a watered-down do-nothing plan that will take his running mate (Romney) to the bottom of the toilet bowl. It is the exact same type of pairing like they had in 1996, when the uncharismatic Bob Dole chose Jack Kemp as his running mate and had his ass handed to him on a platter by the incumbent Bill Clinton. Unless the RNC wakes up and puts Ron Paul’s name into nomination, it will be a repeat of 1996. Romney is a joke, and so is his hand picked puppet Paul Ryan.
    It’s either Ron Paul or 4 more years of Obama!!

  • Sorry, I don’t like the ‘don’t want to offend grandma for gift socks’ analogy.

    They are elected officials, by us, for us.

    Sorry if they don’t/won’t ‘understand’ why we are loudly voicing our discontent, but that will leave room for MORE liberty candidates to step forward and run against these clueless, placating incumbents.

    Paul Ryan voted for the Patriot Act, NDAA, (initially) SOPA, TARP, Bailouts, extending Medicare, further Federal involvement in Public Education, etc. etc. etc.

    To even ~think~ this guy is ‘libertarian leaning’ is a joke and an insult.

  • Gregg

    Mitt and Ryan loves the TSA, bailouts, Obamacare and illegals. Ron Paul is the only candidate with a plan to end the TSA and end the endless wars for Israel, it all started a decade ago after a false flag attack. 9/11, US and Israel.