Paul-Ryan.jpg

Paul Ryan: A Duty to Serve

On Monday – which is to say, on Memorial Day – Jennifer Rubin posted a short squib on The Washington Post website. In it she goes after politicians of merit who shy away from running for higher office with the excuse that their decision was based on the needs of their families. She asks pointedly whether this is supposed to mean that those who do run are therefore “less devoted” to their families. She intimates that the whole thing may be “a bit of a dodge.” And to make her point, she directs our attention to the women and men serving in the armed forces.

This weekend, however, I saw firsthand why this reason (however true) is really not an appropriate rationale for politicians. My family and I spent the weekend in Norfolk. There are multiple Army forts and Navy bases in area. On and off base there are thousands of homes, filled with a single spouse and multiple children. Usually it is the dads who are gone six months, but often it is much longer. Having a spouse deployed is not reason for complaint. Life goes on, children go to school, mothers cope and there are no weekends home for the absent dads.

So if a pol doesn’t want to run for office, that’s fine. If he thinks his family is a higher priority than serving in Congress or the White House, many of us can relate. But they should save the sanctimony. Who’s more noble: the pol who decides not to run for the White House or the soldier, marine or sailor who goes overseas no matter how much he loves his family?

If a pol believes his country needs him, is the family dislocation — which involves no personal danger, comes with many perks, permits weekends and vacations with the family, and allows (if they so desire) relocating the family to Washington — justification for not serving? Patriotism, the extraordinary courage and everyday stress borne by our military and their families are something to admire. Many of us could not imagine undertaking it. So if a pol can’t tolerate a far more minor inconvenience, perhaps he should keep it to himself, lest the rest of us think worse of him.

This could be read as a dig at Governor Mitch Daniels, and it does give one pause. But I think that Rubin has Paul Ryan in mind. She has already made it clear that she thinks that he should run, and she has an argument.

There are times – let’s face it – when one woman or man may be as good as another. Virtually any Republican in office (apart from Ron Paul) would be more serviceable as President than the current incumbent. But there are other times when one woman or man is not as good as another. George Washington brought something to the Presidency that no one else could have brought, and it may have made all the difference. Abraham Lincoln did the same in circumstances that were even more trying.

We are not in a crisis as grievous as the crises that these two Presidents faced. The survival of the Union is not at stake. But I believe that there is a great deal on the line – as much as, if not more than at any point in my lifetime. We face a grave crisis, and every such crisis is a golden opportunity.

If President Obama is re-elected, I fear that the die will be cast – that we will go the way of Europe: dependency, crony capitalism, personal irresponsibility, economic stagnation, and military weakness. We are already a long way down that road. What Barack Obama is doing may make our further progress down that road irreversible.

If, on the other hand, we elect a Bob Dole clone – someone more serviceable than the incumbent who would be content to be the tax collector for the welfare state (a category that has long encompassed most Republicans) – there will be a pause in our progress down the road to perdition. But it will only be the kind of pause necessary from time to time if a man on the march is to catch his breath and pull himself together for further marching. The direction will remain the same. The only thing at stake would be the pace. That is what we chose when we elected Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils. Every single President on this list increased the size and the scope of the administrative state – just not as much and not as fast as their Democratic opponents would have done.

There is a third possibility. We could actually nominate and elect someone who recognizes the problem as a problem, someone who sees that soft despotism really is liberal democracy’s drift, someone who recognizes the moral resources that the American regime has within it to combat this tendency and who understands how to capitalize on them, someone who would seize the opportunity afforded by the crisis of the entitlements state, make the American people look into the abyss, speak truth to them about the necessity for and the virtues of limited government and personal responsibility, and persuade them that we must now decisively reverse our course.

I do not mean to pour scorn on Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and George Pataki. They all possess estimable qualities. But I do not think that any of these men have the wit to rise to the occasion. At best, they would do an unseemly imitation of Bob Dole. I think highly of Herman Cain, but he is politically unseasoned, and he knows far too little about the larger world. Businessmen tend to get sideswiped when they become political executives. Service in a cabinet post might down the road make of him a better candidate.

Tim Pawlenty is, I believe, the only plausible candidate in the race – and the truth is that he seems plausible only because we do not yet know him well. He may pan out, and I hope that he does. But he may not. I would hate to have to bet my last dollar on him.

I was of the opinion that Governor Daniels might be the man. I hold to my high opinion of him. But for reasons all his own he has not made himself available. That leaves Paul Ryan – whom I have long thought the best of them all. He has considerable experience in government; and though he has never served in executive office, he has demonstrated in the course of the last year that he has an executive temperament, and he has managed to unite his party behind a program. He is certainly not afraid of taking responsibility.

I could reel off the names of various Congressmen – stretching from Carl Albert to Nancy Pelosi – who have played a prominent role in my lifetime. None of them could be called a statesman. They were competent, clever partisan politicians. Ryan is something different. He has attained a stature that no Congressman in my lifetime has achieved. When I cast my mind back in the past in search of comparable figures, I can come up with only two – James Madison in the First Federal Congress, and Henry Clay, when he was Speaker of the House. There were no doubt others, but the list is not long, and I doubt whether there would be anyone on it who served in the last hundred years.

Ryan is already the standard-bearer of the party. When anyone, such as Newt Gingrich, departs in any serious way from the program that Ryan has outlined, he is told in no uncertain terms by nearly everyone he meets to sit down and shut up. Ryan understands what is at stake. The speeches that he has given indicate that he understands the connection between the social issues (abortion, out-of-wedlock births, and the like), the crisis of the entitlements state, the growth of the administrative state, and the likelihood that we will face economic stagnation and a high level of structural unemployment. He understands this, and he has outlined a program that will start us in the direction of fixing what is wrong.

Some would argue that we need Ryan in the job he now holds. “For what?” I would reply. The man has already done everything that a Congressman could possibly do. To implement the program that he has so skillfully developed and so persuasively presented, he would have to be . . . President of the United States.

I do not know Paul Ryan. I am not acquainted with him. I have never even met the man. If I knew him at all well, I would walk into his office and slap down on his desk Jennifer Rubin’s post. As she points out, lots of Americans in uniform have answered their country’s call. Here is the question I would ask Ryan: “In this crisis, how can you of all people justify not doing what those soldiers have done?” And here is the argument that I would make: “You have the preparation; you have the training; you have the temperament; you have the knowledge; you have the persuasive capacity. We now face a great crisis, and you understand what has to be done better than anyone else. Your country needs you. In the circumstances, what possible excuse could trump that? You have a duty to serve.”

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More by Paul Rahe

  1. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    StickerShock:  This is an excellent draft Ryan argument. 

    Have you read the exchange between Ryan & Archbiship Dolan from NY regarding the Congressman’s budget proposals and their place alongside the Church’s call for social justice?  http://www.catholicadvocate.com/2011/05/archbishop-dolan-and-rep-paul-ryan-exchange-positive-letters-on-the-budget/?amp&amp

    Ryan is clearly a cut above. · May 31 at 8:22pm

    Yes, it was in part that exchange that caused me to write this post.

  2. WI Con

     I couldn’t agree more with the good Professor. I’m assuming that Rep. Ryan is being inundated with e-mails & calls, but I’m just assuming (you know what that stands for).

    Has Professor Rahe forwarded any of his posts or these threads of interest to Rep. Ryan? I think it would have more effect coming from him and all Hillsdale represents than little old me.

  3. Hang On
    katievs:

    But I can’t agree that it’s his patriotic duty to run, or that “family concerns” are selfish and/or petty.

    · May 31 at 8:50pm

    I could not agree more with katievs. I just disagree with Jennifer Rubin’s and your argument comparing soldier’s service and politician’s service to the nation. In both cases, they know what they are getting into and it should be THEIR free choice to do so. Service men are eligible to receive large benefits after their military service, not least of which is hiring preference in life-time employment with the federal government. Why conservatives go all weepy-eyed over military service is a mystery.

    I am also beginning to agree far more with John Derbyshire about the Ryan plan and Medicare. Yes, Medicare is unsustainable. But that does not mean that you should throw seniors of a later generation to the wolves of Wall Street who will come up with incomprehensible plans for medical insurance that the federal government will probably re-insure as with Freddie and Fannie leading to yet another huge financial disaster. Republicans will need to learn to square this circle or they face electoral doom.

  4. KarlUB
    Paul A. Rahe

    There is a third possibility. We could actually nominate and elect someone who recognizes the problem as a problem, someone who sees that soft despotism really is liberal democracy’s drift, someone who recognizes the moral resources that the American regime has within it to combat this tendency and who understands how to capitalize on them, someone who would seize the opportunity afforded by the crisis of the entitlements state, make the American people look into the abyss, speak truth to them about the necessity for and the virtues of limited government and personal responsibility, and persuade them that we must now decisively reverse our course…

    Virtually any Republican in office (apart from Ron Paul) would be more serviceable as President…

    So, despite the first paragraph, Prof. Rahe is on record that he prefers President Obama to Ron Paul. Let that sink in.

    This is a perfectly mainstream opinion, of course. But it makes very clear, yet again, that Prof. Rahe cares much more about items not listed in that first paragraph, nor listed anywhere else in this post.

  5. Western Chauvinist
    katievs: But I can’t agree that it’s his patriotic duty to run, or that “family concerns” are selfish and/or petty.

    He’s a religious man. 

    Someone else may have said selfish, but I used the phrase short-sighted and petty. My argument is the country is at a crossroads this election which will determine whether we go forward in the essential American character of liberty and self-reliance, or we make a left-turn on a one-way street to European social democracy and all the attendant malaise and societal decay.  If America’s future character isn’t a family concern for someone in a position to affect it, it certainly should be!

    Paul Ryan knows not to bury one’s coin.  If he is a good Catholic, he knows obligation.  

    When I’m not working to recruit him and, hopefully one day soon, working for his campaign, I’ll be on my knees begging God for release from this wicked administration.  And asking Mary to intercede on behalf of the Ryan family concerns and everyone else’s in this great nation.

  6. Western Chauvinist

    Amen! Amen!!

    I would only add Ryan helps Republicans in critically important competitive mid-west states as Jeffrey Anderson wrote at The Weekly Standard.  Any chance Romney brings Massachusetts to the GOP column?  Don’t answer that.

    I found the family objections excuse of Governor Daniels short-sighted and petty, given what I believe is an existential threat to this country.  If Obama wins a second term, I do not see how we backtrack from becoming the European social democracy he advocates and toward which he has very effectively moved us.

    The fragility of Mrs. Lincoln’s psyche did not keep Mr. Lincoln from pursuing and winning the job of preserving the union.  Surely nothing about Mrs. Daniels is a plausible excuse for Governor Daniels not working to preserve the essential character of America.

    However, Paul Ryan is an even better fit for the job.  And, as katievs likes to point out, he’s tall!

  7. Daniel Sattelberger

    Agree with Western Chauvinist on Ryan helping Republicans in the Midwest.

    I’m beginning to be a bit of a broken record here, but I think Gary Johnson would also be great.  Foreign policy and electability is a problem, I’ll grant, but he has a great fiscal record and would stand up to big spenders in both parties.

    Also, while the Presidential election is definitely the most important, we can’t leave Senate elections by the wayside.  There’s no way we’re going to make any progress against our fiscal issues and the nanny state without having a good majority in Congress as well.

  8. Other Conor

    I wouldn’t discount a certain level of humility in Ryan.  “Who I am that I should presume that I could and should lead the most powerful nation on earth?”  And it takes some chutzpah to think “of course if I ran I would win…” 

    If Ryan needs to be President because we are at a perilous moment for which he alone has the skills to lead us out of and it is truly a matter of duty, akin to the work our soldiers do, then simultaneous with “drafting” Ryan can we cut the less-than-serious candidates?  Imagine if Ryan was already in the race, would the greater purpose of our nation be served by him having to deal with the likes of Trump, Gingrich, etc? 

    If it is Ryan’s duty to run, shouldn’t it be other candidates duty to get out of the race and support him?  And if the vanity candidates (or “no one else good enough is running, so I guess I will” candidates) won’t do their duty, isn’t it our duty to shame and brow beat them to give it a rest?

  9. Western Chauvinist
    Other Conor: I wouldn’t discount a certain level of humility in Ryan.  “Who I am that I should presume that I could and should lead the most powerful nation on earth?”  And it takes some chutzpah to think “of course if I ran I would win…” 

    If Ryan needs to be President because we are at a perilous moment for which he alone has the skills to lead us out of and it is truly a matter of duty, akin to the work our soldiers do, then simultaneous with “drafting” Ryan can we cut the less-than-serious candidates?  Imagine if Ryan was already in the race, would the greater purpose of our nation be served by him having to deal with the likes of Trump, Gingrich, etc? 

    If it is Ryan’s duty to run, shouldn’t it be other candidates duty to get out of the race and support him?  And if the vanity candidates (or “no one else good enough is running, so I guess I will” candidates) won’t do their duty, isn’t it our duty to shame and brow beat them to give it a rest? · May 31 at 7:28pm

    Yes.

  10. MBF

    Other Conor: I wouldn’t discount a certain level of humility in Ryan.  “Who I am that I should presume that I could and should lead the most powerful nation on earth?”  And it takes some chutzpah to think “of course if I ran I would win…” 

    I’ve watched Ryan up close for years now. He is the opposite of Newt Gingrich. The last word I would use to describe him is “sanctimonious”.

    He really is a humble, god fearing, family man from Janesville, WI. He sleeps on a cot in his DC office, and spends just about every weekend back in his home district.

    In order to run for POTUS it seems to me that one would have to be, at least on a certain level, an egomaniac. I do not sense this trait in any detectable quantity in either Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan.

  11. Western Chauvinist
    In order to run for POTUS it seems to me that one would have to be, at least on a certain level, an egomaniac. I do not sense this trait in any detectable quantity in either Mitch Daniels or Paul Ryan. · May 31 at 7:56pm

    All the more reason for the intense application of arm twisting.  Maybe that’s why Mitch Daniels was in a sling!  Unfortunately it didn’t work, so Mr. Ryan is our next vic… I mean candidate, of course.

  12. Elizabeth Dunn
    Dan IV:

    Also, while the Presidential election is definitely the most important, we can’t leave Senate elections by the wayside.  There’s no way we’re going to make any progress against our fiscal issues and the nanny state without having a good majority in Congress as well. 

    Bingo.

  13. StickerShock

     This is an excellent draft Ryan argument. 

    Have you read the exchange between Ryan & Archbiship Dolan from NY regarding the Congressman’s budget proposals and their place alongside the Church’s call for social justice?  http://www.catholicadvocate.com/2011/05/archbishop-dolan-and-rep-paul-ryan-exchange-positive-letters-on-the-budget/?amp&amp

    Ryan is clearly a cut above.

  14. Quinn the Eskimo

    Question for consideration: If Ryan throws his hat in the ring, what happens to support for the Ryan plan among the other nominees?  Is it open season on the Ryan plan by other GOP nominees?

    Yes, Gingrich got hit good and hard for what he said, but at the moment, Ryan is a neutral party.  Does that change if Ryan is a contender?  I hope it doesn’t, but I know that wishing doesn’t make it so.

  15. Frozen Chosen

    Might I remind everyone that Paul Ryan – who is very smart and appears to be a fine man and a great congressman – has absolutely zero executive experience.  He simply has no experience managing a large organization.

    If people want to take a flyer and hope he can figure out the executive part as he goes maybe it will turn out well – or maybe the guy will fall flat on his face!

    As an academic, Paul, I think you may have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to practical real world experience which counts just as much as ideology.  Successful organizations do not run themselves.

    Finally, I think you do Mitt Romney a great disservice by comparing him to Bob Dole.  After his heroic service during WWII, Dole – like McCain – became a political hack.  Neither of them accomplished anything (after their brave service) other than stewing in the senate forever.  Romney may be a lot of things but he is no Bob Dole.

  16. katievs

    Ryan is my first choice at the moment.  He is the un-Obama.  The real deal.

    But I can’t agree that it’s his patriotic duty to run, or that “family concerns” are selfish and/or petty.

    He’s a religious man.  I suggest we all pray that, if it’s God’s will, He make it clear to both him and his wife, so they can have confidence they’re doing the right thing, and that their children will be safe from harm.

  17. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Paul: Do you remember when I asked whether anyone had actually changed his or her mind as a result of something written on Ricochet? While my opinion wasn’t fixed before, on reading this, I found myself nodding with each sentence, thinking, “You know, that’s a good argument,” and by the end, was persuaded completely. I had been thinking, “Well, if he doesn’t want to do it, he doesn’t want to do it, you can’t demand that of someone.” But now that you’ve made this case so persuasively, I’ve changed my mind. If he at all understands the implications of what he himself has argued better than anyone else now in politics, he’ll run. 

    And perhaps that’s just what he plans to do. There’s some wisdom in leaving the others to destroy one another first before announcing it.  · May 31 at 11:06pm

    I am glad to have done a service. I hope that you are right in your last paragraph.

  18. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Frozen Chosen: Might I remind everyone that Paul Ryan – who is very smart and appears to be a fine man and a great congressman – has absolutely zero executive experience.  He simply has no experience managing a large organization.

    If people want to take a flyer and hope he can figure out the executive part as he goes maybe it will turn out well – or maybe the guy will fall flat on his face!

    As an academic, Paul, I think you may have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to practical real world experience which counts just as much as ideology.  Successful organizations do not run themselves.Dole. · May 31 at 8:50pm

    Actually, last summer, I wrote five posts — which you can find here — on the importance of executive experience as an indicator of executive temperament. My argue here is that Ryan has been conducting himself in the manner of an executive this last year. He does not evade responsibility; he seizes it. He makes decisions; he takes controversial stands; he does not evade risks: he welcomes them. This is the primary quality that it takes to run a successful organization — and Ryan has it in spades.

  19. Elizabeth Dunn
    Frozen Chosen: 

    Finally, I think you do Mitt Romney a great disservice by comparing him to Bob Dole.  After his heroic service during WWII, Dole – like McCain – became a political hack.  Neither of them accomplished anything (after their brave service) other than stewing in the senate forever.  Romney may be a lot of things but he is no Bob Dole.

     Bingo, again….. Excellent comment. 

  20. Paul A. Rahe
    C
    Frozen Chosen:

    Finally, I think you do Mitt Romney a great disservice by comparing him to Bob Dole.  After his heroic service during WWII, Dole – like McCain – became a political hack.  Neither of them accomplished anything (after their brave service) other than stewing in the senate forever.  Romney may be a lot of things but he is no Bob Dole. · May 31 at 8:50pm

    Actually, after re-reading my piece, I thought that I had done Dole a disservice by mentioning him in the same paragraph with Romney. Dole throughout his career harped on the need for balancing the budget. Romney’s greatest accomplishment, as he says himself, is Romneycare.

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