Normally I wouldn’t bother to quote statements by college friends of politicians. But I was struck by what a friend of Paul Ryan said. As reported in the NY Times today,
“Paul was always a politician,” said Scott Friedman, a former fraternity brother who was a year behind Mr. Ryan. “He was friendly with everybody. He was into debating the issues, and he was into talking about policy and economics.”
Conversations centered less on girls and football and more on the policy issues of the day. “I always knew that he was a conservative Republican, and I knew that he wanted to be a congressman from his college days,” Mr. Friedman said. “Typically, the discussions with him were around adultlike stuff. He would talk about trickle-down economics and why that would be a better approach to running the country’s economy.” (Emphasis added.)
The last sentence is worthy of emphasis because of how early Ryan’s views were formed and how little they seem to have changed. Whether he actually used the phrase “trickle-down economics” in discussing his views is really besides the point. His friend got it right. This is what Ryan believed and does believe. Just read his words. And unlike Obama he hasn’t become more moderate or more pragmatic with age. With regard to the economy he just digs his heals in deeper in the sterile soil of Ayn Rand and her fellow radical rightists. (Although his views on many social issues, e.g., birth control, are decidedly non-libertarian.)
Ryan clearly believes that he is on a mission. This latter can have its upsides. Passion can be a virtue, etc. But there is a point at which passion turns into ideological fanaticism and then only one’s ideas can save the world or a country. It appears that Ryan has made this turn. For example, we can point to one of Ryan’s most recent interviews. The exchange below is from the 60 Minutes interview which aired yesterday, Romney and Ryan’s first joint interview.
Bob Schieffer: Congressman, this is going to change your whole life. What did your family think about it?
Paul Ryan: Well, we’ve dedicated much of our lives to saving this country, to public service.
Ryan, at 42 years old, has dedicated much of his life not to serving the country or assisting the country through public service, but to saving it. That’s chutzpa from a 42 year old congressman. I don’t believe that even Lincoln, who could have claimed to be saving his country, would actually have ever uttered these words. Missionaries have their place but not in the White House.
If you want to know why Obama couldn’t get the House Republicans to compromise with him, you don’t have to look much further than to Paul’s passion for saving us and his belief in the miracle of the trickle-down. None of this is to say that Ryan the politician wouldn’t vote for policies that run against his libertarian economic principles if expedient. He certainly voted for measures that markedly increased the debt during the Bush years. This doesn’t make him less ideological. Paul needs to survive and thrive to fight for his principles, and this means sidestepping them if necessary in order to hold his place in the sun. This is very different from the mindset that is actually willing to compromise and debate in good faith.