Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: Ryan spurns historic role of government
September 1, 2012
Midwestern parents dub cod liver oil “instant sunshine.” During cloudy winter days, they force tablespoons of cod liver oil into their children’s mouths. Puckered lips and clenched teeth reject spoonfuls of this foul-tasting liquid.
Just as children detest cod liver oil, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan turns his back on government.
Speaking at Denver’s Lakewood High School, he voiced strong anti-government rhetoric. “We are going to give America the kind of leadership it deserves,” exclaimed Ryan. “We are going to get the government out of the way.”
Why does Ryan spill verbal bile on government programs assisting the poor? A biblical sage offered the prescription: “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
Ryan’s brittle, cranky attitude towards Uncle Sam assisting the poor doesn’t accept this scriptural medical wisdom. Why make big government the fall guy for our country’s maladies?
Ryan is a former personal trainer with minimal body fat. He expects Uncle Sam to replicate his sleek physique.
Prior to his presidency, James Madison battled against Ryan’s distrust of government. The father of the Constitution worked tirelessly to convince colleagues that his home state of Virginia should ratify it.
Colonial leaders presented furious arguments over the role and responsibility of the federal government versus that of the states. These debates functioned as warmups for the nasty games played in our constitutional history spanning two centuries. Constitutional crises over this issue and political showdowns because of it now have Ryan as a vigorous champion for lean federal government.
Writing to Archibald Stuart on Oct. 30, 1787, Madison outlined the tug-of-war between two camps over government’s size and prerogatives.
“Nothing is more common here,” lamented Madison, “and I presume the case must be the same with you than to see companies of intelligent people equally divided and equally earnest in maintaining on one side that the general government will overwhelm the state government and on the other hand that it will be a prey to their encroachments.”
Madison was as relentless in supporting a federal government as Paul Ryan’s tirades are against it. With clarity and conviction, he pressed for a new constitution in the winter of 1787. No more patching a threadbare Articles of Confederation that provoked states to raise tariffs against each other, leaving the nation economically in
Madison argued against the least government being the best version of it. “The present system,” he argued, “neither has nor deserves advocates; and if some very strong props are not applied will quickly tumble to the ground. No money is paid into the public treasury; no respect is paid to the federal authority. Not a single state complies with the requisitions, several pass over them in silence and some positively reject them … It is not possible that a government can last long under these circumstances.”
Paul Ryan overlooks these historic objections to keeping government lean and wobbly. As a policy wonk writing speeches for vice presidential aspirant Jack Kemp in the late 1970s, Ryan supported shrinking Social Security, lowering taxes and giving the rich financial incentives. He widened the umbrella of “supply side economics,” which when put into practice under Republican administrations since the Reagan era has increased citizens stuck in poverty, shrunk the middle class and filled the well-to-do’s wallets.
Joe Klein, writing the editorial “Paul Ryan’s Grand Vision,” condemns the miserable failure of supply-side economics for our general population. “This is supply-side economics, the utterly uncorroborated theory that the less people pay in taxes, the more they’ll produce. Ryan’s mentor, Jack Kemp, sold Ronald Reagan on it in 1980. The result was such a huge hole in the federal deficit that in 1982, Reagan was forced to come back with one of the largest proportional tax increases in American history. Supply-side tax cuts didn’t work for George W. Bush, either. By contrast, Clinton raised taxes and the economy boomed. Who knew?” (Time Magazine, Aug. 27, 2012, p. 21).
George Bush called the scheme Ryan and Kemp proposed to make the rich richer “voodoo economics.” Ronald Reagan mindlessly repeated this supply-side mantra. His budget director, David Stockman, admitted the bogus figures didn’t add up. And pro football fans still wonder if former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp got dinged in games that impaired his fiscal common sense.
Sometimes history repeats itself. Madison was quiet and unassuming about his confidence in government. In contrast, Paul Ryan is telegenic. He rouses crowds with his anti-government diatribes.
Will the American people learn from history? Will they approve of Madison’s trust in government or buy into Ryan’s hype and reject it?
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.the