David Brooks’s column offers one thing to those few radical Republicans who hope to be on the Republican ticket with Mitt Romney in November—he’ll moderate their extremism and, thus, offer the promise that they can be marketed as credible potential vice presidents this fall.
Last week, in a column entitled “That Other Obama,” Brooks provided a profile of a strikingly domesticated Paul Ryan, the author of a Republican budget that—in his own words—will give America an entirely new America to choose this fall.
Of course, Ryan is not a traditional conservative; his prescriptions are invariably radical and his tactics usually are designed to radicalize—to drive American politics to the extremes.
Brooks confesses that he finds that Ryan’s budget includes “disturbing” weaknesses: disruptive cuts in support for science and poor kids, and regressive tax cuts, for instance.
Brooks will not rescue Ryan by defending the substance of his extraordinary budget. He’ll find moderation, however, in Ryan’s dogged nature. He complains that Obama is uncharitable about the major reforms outlined in Ryan’s budget.
Obama, unfairly, won’t let Ryan be a fiscal moderate, even if Brooks is the only conservative in America who wants him to look like one.
Brooks's biggest task is to make palatable Ryan’s plan to turn universal public healthcare for seniors into a financial assistance program for seniors seeking their own health insurance. It’s indisputable that Ryan’s plan would ultimately end Medicare as we know it. And there’s no reason to expect Obama will stop pointing that out. However, Brooks's rhetorical game is smaller. He aims to turn Ryan’s think-tank abstraction into a cozy done deal:
“The Ryan plan would slowly phase in a premium support option, in which the government would give people money to buy insurance. This general idea was embraced by Bill Clinton’s bipartisan Medicare reform commission. It follows a similar design to the prescription drug benefit. Its effectiveness is unproved, but it’s a time-tested and respectable proposal, with expert support.
Time-tested, please. Time is no more a conservative selling point for a 20-year health insurance proposal than is moss on the north side of a 20-year-old tree.
Time tests actions, not white papers or draft budgets in Washington. Bad ideas don’t improve with time; and good ideas don’t need to wait another generation.
In the 16th century, Michel de Montaigne wrote:
“I look on the present as no less credible than the past, and I would as soon quote my neighbour as Aulus Gellius or Macrobius, and what I have seen as readily as what they have written. Just as virtue is not more virtuous for having flourished longer, so I hold a truth is no wiser for being older.”
Ronald Reagan escaped persistent questioning of his faith in the medicinal value of massive tax cuts with that affable slap-down available to an older man: “There you go again.”
Can young Paul Ryan handle his critics that way as well?