Paul Ryan terrifies the American Left.
Which precisely explains the tones of hysteria coming from the Obama White House.
The real question is why the Chicago Thugs have suffered such a public meltdown over Mitt Romney’s choice of the young Wisconsin Congressman to be his vice-presidential running mate.
And there is an answer. Three specific answers, actually.
• Ronald Reagan: President Reagan today is an American hero. Poll after poll has Americans placing him in the pantheon of great American presidents, and occasionally at the top of the list.
The admiration for Reagan has become such a part of American historical bedrock that even President Obama and likeminded professional leftists have essentially given up the ghost. When they mention Reagan at all, it is generally to play a sly game of casting Reagan as a moderate, pretending to salute him while taking a shot at some Republican for not being more like Reagan. Obama played this game four times in one speech back in April, effusivelypraising Reagan while casting Mitt Romney as some sort of wild-eyed extremist.
No one is fooled.
Ronald Reagan was and remains the Left’s worst nightmare.
Because it was Ronald Reagan who both understood conservative philosophy and was repeatedly turning it into effective policy. It was Reagan who began the massive historical deconstruction of a century’s worth of the Left’s ideas on everything from economics to national security — repeatedly proving them as unworkable as they were dangerous. Not to mention that he trounced Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and, through his vice president in 1988, Michael Dukakis. Three consecutive political landslides in which Reagan so changed America that by 1992 Bill Clinton ran as a “New Democrat”– essentially portraying himself as Reagan-lite.
As the assaults on Romney and Ryan abruptly escalate, it’s more than worth a look back to put all of these attacks in perspective. To understand that the visceral nature of the attacks on Mitt Romney and now Paul Ryan is old news — decades old in fact.
Recall that when Reagan’s hand went up to take the oath of office in January 1981, liberal economics had, by the end of 1980, produced:
- An inflation rate of 13.58%
- An unemployment rate of 7.4% that was climbing steadily on the way up to 9.6%
- A prime interest rate of 21.50% — an all time high.
Reagan’s answer to this mess — as is Paul Ryan’s today — was a combination of tax cuts and budget cuts along with regulatory reform. His critics instantly derided this as “Reaganomics.”
And as today with Ryan and his “Path to Prosperity” — aka “The Ryan Budget” — the leftists in Congress and the media were merciless in savaging Reagan and his “Reaganomics.”
What did they say?
Steven F. Hayward has detailed the response to Reagan in his superb book (one of two) The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution 1980-1989.
In the lead was Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, a Massachusetts Democrat who described himself as “an old-hat FDR Democrat.” O’Neill made no pretense where he was coming from, saying: “I’ve been one of the big spenders of all time; it’s true, I am a big spender.” At one point, says Hayward, O’Neill boasted that he had gone out of his way to spend government money on a project to make dwarfs six inches taller.
O’Neill had no reluctance in showing his disdain for Reagan. He derided the new president as a “matinee idol,” deliberately mispronouncing Reagan’s name during the campaign as “Reegan.” Uneasy at the size of Reagan’s 1980 victory, O’Neill decided it was good strategy to give Reagan enough policy rope to hang himself and the GOP politically, believing this would eventually kill Reaganomics dead. Every moment he could find, O’Neill was not only warning that Reaganomics would be a dismal failure — he frequently attacked the President in sharp personal terms. On one occasion O’Neill took to ABC’s Good Morning America to say this to host Charlie Gibson:
“He [Reagan] has no concern, no regard, no care for the little man in America. And I understand that. Because of his lifestyle, he never meets those people. And so, consequently, he doesn’t understand their problems. He’s only been able to meet the wealthy…. We [liberals] are the party of the people. And we’re their guardians.”
At a later date O’Neill snapped of Reagan’s policies and administration, both of which he consistently predicted would fail:
“Let’s face it. This is a callous, right-wing administration, committed to repealing [LBJ's] the Great Society, [JFK's] the New Frontier, [Truman's] the Fair Deal, and [FDR's] the New Deal. It has made a target of the politically weak, the poor, the working people.”
Still later O’Neill would declaim of Reagan:
“The evil is in the White House at the present time. And that evil is a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations of America, and who likes to ride a horse. He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.”
This, mind you, was par for the course as liberals of the day dealt with Ronald Reagan. As one liberal media critic wrote in the day, the battle was between “FDR versus Darwin” — almost exactly the lame line being advanced today by Obama and company.
Liberal mayors were apoplectic at the Reagan budget cuts, predicting riots in the streets (there were none). The liberal Governor of New York, Hugh Carey, insisted “there will be social upheaval in the country by October because of the Reagan Administration’s budget cuts.” Oops. Wrong again.
The ultimate irony — and since there was no Fox or talk radio in the day, it was an irony unmentioned — was that O’Neill and his fellow liberals were supported in their visceral anger at Reagan by none other than the Soviet Union. Longtime Soviet spokesman Georgi Arbatov dismissed Reaganomics by saying it was nothing more than an attempt “to cure the entrenched ills of the late 20th century simply by returning to the ‘good old practices’ of 19th-century capitalism.”
Thus the American and the Communist left in the Soviet Union were in perfect synch: Reaganomics was evil, not to mention that it would never work.
And so it went.
All of which explains the absolute fury by liberals as one-by-one, everything they insisted would happen — never happened. Reagan didn’t simply prove them wrong, his policies humiliated their policies. Hard core liberals were furious — absolutely furious.
By the time of Reagan’s re-election in November of 1984, interest rates were down more than a full 9 points, from 21.50 to 12%. The unemployment rate had peaked at 9.6% and stood at 7.5%. (By the time Reagan left office in 1989 the unemployment rate was down to 5.5%.) And inflation? By 1984 — Reagan’s re-election year — inflation had dropped like a stone, from 13.58% in 1980 under the liberal Carter’s tax-and-spend policies to 4.30% under Reagan.
Reagan took note of a curious silence, saying with a smile: “They don’t call it Reaganomics anymore.” Which is to say, Reaganomics — once used by liberals like O’Neill and company as an epithet — had become synonymous in the mind of Americans with economic success. So — liberals stopped using the term.
Everything once being said about Ronald Reagan is now being hurled at Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The reason for the intensity of it all (Romney murdered a guy’s wife, Ryan wants to push grandma over the cliff) is that in primal recesses of the liberal mind, liberals look at Romney and Ryan as the return of Reaganomics.
The New York Times yesterday predictably branded Paul Ryan as — really — “the most extreme of vice-presidential possibilities.” (Glad to know Sarah Palin is now a moderate in the eyes of the Times. Congratulations Governor Palin. You have officially “evolved.”)
On November 2, 1980, the New York Times made a point of re-endorsing liberal Jimmy Carter by saying — really — that Carter’s liberalism “offers better goods.”
Which is to say, liberals really don’t care if there’s high unemployment (as there is now with Obama’s 8.3%) hurting Americans. Or, in the case of 1980, if liberalism was producing 21.50% interest rates and 13.58% inflation. Liberals, you see, are all about “caring” — even if the liberal version of caring in fact translates to a ruthless un-caring that ruins American lives every single day. The primary concern of liberals has for decades appeared to be all about feeling good about themselves — not helping others.
Which is to say: Reaganomics began the successful dismantling of the failed liberal idea of a government-run command — socialist if you will — economy. An economy that was built not on the original American idea of equal opportunity but rather based on government arranging outcomes. An idea that failed miserably by 1980.
Paul Ryan is the very symbol of Reaganomics.
Or, if you will, he is Reagan’s heir. The return of the left’s worst nightmare — in which all or most of the classes into which they love to divide America voted overwhelmingly for Reagan and against liberalism’s standard bearers Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis. Not to mention launching a Reagan-lite Clinton presidency in a fourth and fifth election in 1992 and 1996. And, when Clinton wasn’t Reaganesque enough in his first two years? The Reagan Revolution still had the clout to launch Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America revolution in 1994 — forcing Clinton back to the center.
Which brings us to Paul Ryan’s mentor (and, full disclosure, my own boss at the Department of Housing and Urban Development):
• Jack Kemp: Jack Kemp, as was noted in this space back in January of 2009, was arguably the most important man in late 20th century American politics who never became president.
Usually that importance is attributed, understandably, to his role as what one might call the Godfather of Reaganomics. It was Kemp who took the arguments of Art Laffer and the Wall Street Journal’s Jude Wanniski, and, using his role as a congressman, persuaded Ronald Reagan into adopting supply-side economics. (Which in fact was not a new idea, having provided the backbone of tax-cut policy for both Republican Calvin Coolidge in the 1920s and Democrat John F. Kennedy in the 1960s.)
Kemp’s role here was in fact historic.
But Jack Kemp has one other serious political achievement to his credit aside from being the “Godfather of Reaganomics.”
Jack Kemp began doing something that was long overdue: de-compassionating the Left.
Which is to say, as that Tip O’Neill quote about liberals being “the guardians” of working people and the poor illustrated, liberals have long connected the role of government to moral superiority.
Jack Kemp would have none of it. Not for a moment would he yield the moral high ground to socialism much less Marxism.
He never hesitated, for example, to challenge the idea that the American Left somehow had a moral claim to leadership in civil rights. He would remind, as he always called them, “our friends on the Left” that they had been “mired in Reconstruction mentality, (and had been) implicit defenders of white supremacy, the Solid South and the Ku Klux Klan.” In a speech at Harvard he looked his liberal audience straight in the eye and said of his pro-growth, pro-capitalism policies that they were a “moral obligation” to our fellow Americans.
A Jack Kemp speech wasn’t complete without describing left-wing policies as “paternalistic” or “condescending” or “elitist.” “Manic egalitarians” as he once called leftists. He believed passionately in free markets and economic growth as a pillar of a moral society. “You can’t enrich poor nations by impoverishing their people,” he would say in a 1990 speech to “The Wealth of Nations” Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland. Typically direct in addressing both American and international leftists Kemp added:
“The key to wealth and prosperity is allowing people freedom –freedom to work, to save, freedom to own their own property and homes, to succeed, and yes, to fail, but try again. The ultimate cause of the wealth of nations, and indeed, the wealth of cities, is people.”
It is thus no surprise to hear Paul Ryan confront his critics directly, just as Jack Kemp once did, to look them in the eye and challenge the morality of big government liberalism. In a speech at Georgetown University in April of this year, Ryan took on President Obama exactly in the style of his former boss Kemp. Challenging Obama on what Ryan called the “moral implications” of Obama’s policies Ryan noted that:
“He [President Obama] does not seem to understand that he can’t promote the common good by setting class against class, or group against group.
Saying as well: