Sunday, April 4, 2010

Paul Ryan: Cassandra or Chicken Little?

So Paul Ryan gave a speech this week in Oklahoma that is already being ogled over by the usual suspects. It's a very eloquent speech in many respects, Ryan is certainly refining his rhetoric to bring his high-minded theorizing to the masses. Substantively, the speech is combination of several different addresses he's given recently: an outline of his Roadmap, a speech on Progressivism at Hillsdale College, several speeches he's given on the House floor, and other places. One gets the impression that Ryan is working on a unified field theory of impending financial disaster.

Which begs the question of the title: is Ryan playing the part of Cassandra or of Chicken Little?

Ryan makes a what could be considered a very dire pronouncement:
This presumptuous reform has put this nation ... once dedicated to the life and freedom of every person ... on a long decline toward the same mediocrity that the social welfare states of Europe have become.
Relatively speaking, that's a moderate claim -- tumbling toward mediocrity is a far cry from, say "violent revolution," but Ryan's not done yet:
Now we are approaching a "tipping point." Once we pass it, we will become a different people. Before the "tipping point," Americans remain independent and take responsibility for their own well-being. Once we have gone beyond the "tipping point," that self-sufficient outlook will be gradually transformed into a soft despotism a lot like Europe's social welfare states. Soft despotism isn't cruel or mean, it's kindly and sympathetic. It doesn't help anyone take charge of life, but it does keep everyone in a happy state of childhood. A growing centralized bureaucracy will provide for everyone's needs, care for everyone's heath, direct everyone's career, arrange everyone's important private affairs, and work for everyone's pleasure.

The only hitch is, government must be the sole supplier of everyone's happiness ... the shepherd over this flock of sheep.

Needless to say, it's a bit of a leap from health care reform to the government take-over of Jefferson's "pursuit of happiness." Ryan never claims that the country has crossed the "tipping point," but he sure implies it, and this is not an unimportant detail.

If anyone needed any more evidence that conservatism has forgotten the leadership of Ronald Reagan, Ryan's speech in Oklahoma should serve as Exhibit A. There is no optimism, no "shining city on a hill," no appeal to the better angles of the American character ... just doom and gloom.

None of this really seems to bother Ryan personally. At the end of the speech he notes that his retirement plans include spending part of the year in Oklahoma (his wife is a native). Given that Ryan is still a young man, that could be 30 or 40+ years down the road. In other words, America will still be here for the foreseeable future. One could dismiss this as polite banter from a guest speaker, but it does have the effect of rhetorically undermining Ryan's dire predictions.

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