August 20, 2019

Paul Ryan’s courage

“Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? I’m telling you this guy is amazing. He is honest; he is straightforward; he is sincere; and the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget.”

These words are not from a Tea Party accountant, but from Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chair of Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, praising Ryan and his budget plan during a lecture at the University of North Carolina last September.

If the Republican prospective vice-presidential nominee received this kind of praise from a high-level official of the Democratic party, all I can say is: We’re in for an interesting few months until the November election.

At least, don’t expect to see what we saw four years ago, when the mainstream media easily humiliated an inexperienced Sarah Palin, who, I may add, made herself quite easy to humiliate.

Now, we have liberal pundits like Roger Cohen of The New York Times calling Ryan a “genial guy” and writing things like: “I applaud the Ryan pick because it places front and center what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, has called the greatest long-term threat to America’s national security: its debt.

“A country in ever greater hock to the Chinese, unable to invest in its schools, vulnerable to creditors pulling the plug, will not resist decline in the 21st century.”

This election, Cohen writes, “is going to involve an ideological battle — over the size of government, the extent of Americans’ obligations to one another, even the soul of the country — that is no less than the United States deserves.”

As he puts it, “This election is about American revival, stupid.”

The question is: Will we allow it? Will we allow ourselves to have the serious ideological debate this country deserves, or will we continue to throw mud at our opponents in order to undermine them?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going for the mud.

For starters, I’m throwing mud at all those fear merchants who are trying to convince old folks in Florida that the Ryan budget will “end their Medicare as we know it.” That’s hogwash, and they know it. In the latest Ryan plan, everyone age 55 and older remains in the current Medicare system.

I’m also throwing mud at those class warriors who accuse Ryan of letting the wealthy off the hook, as if they don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Actually, they pay more than that: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent paid 28.1 percent of the federal tax burden in 2007; and with Ryan’s proposed elimination of tax loopholes, they’ll pay even more.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw mud at those fantasy merchants who harp against domestic spending cuts of any kind, without ever mentioning that, as Yuval Levin writes in National Review Online:

“The United States government is now on track for an unprecedented fiscal disaster — with debt quickly surpassing the size of our GDP and reaching twice that size in the coming decades, crushing any chance for robust growth. It is also a fact that the rising cost of Medicare is at the very heart of that disaster.”

Those fantasy merchants should heed the words of President Obama himself: “If you look at the numbers, then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.”

Of course, it is a Jewish value to care for the poor and the downtrodden. Liberal Slate editor Jacob Weisberg says Ryan is not a “heartless ideologue,” which might explain why Ryan says his plan “strengthens the safety net by returning power to the states, which are in the best position to tailor assistance to their specific populations.”

In any event, we can’t ignore other Jewish values, like living within our means and confronting difficult truths. You can disagree with Paul Ryan’s budget and ideology, but you can’t deny that this man has the courage to confront difficult truths.

That’s why I have some mud left for commentators who always grumble that politicians are serial panderers who tell us only what we want to hear, but then, when they finally meet a politician with the courage to tell us the truth, all they can say is: Dumb political move!

Yes, it’s certainly a dumb political move to remind America that it is broke, out of shape and has an advanced case of diabetes, and that if the country doesn’t make drastic changes to its budget and lifestyle, we should expect a disaster down the road.

It’s easy to assume that voters are like children — just promise them sugar without pain and you’ll get their votes. I don’t make that assumption. Maybe it’s time voters of all political stripes wake up and send a loud message to Washington: We can handle the truth, even if it means pain and sacrifice.

As far as those bubbes and zaydes in Florida are concerned, maybe we should ask them: Do you want to leave to your children and grandchildren a country that, as Roger Cohen says, is “in ever greater hock to the Chinese, unable to invest in its schools, [and] vulnerable to creditors pulling the plug”?

Paul Ryan, the man Erskine Bowles calls honest, straightforward and sincere, is sticking his neck out and forcing America to confront its chronic illness.

If you have a better prescription, let’s see it. Just don’t act as if it’s only a headache.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at