- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2014

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is perhaps the smartest conservative in Congress. Unusual for a politician, the former vice presidential nominee actually spends time thinking about problems and coming up with solutions. He is one conservative who believes Republicans will never prosper simply by denouncing liberal solutions to societal problems, unworkable as they may be, but must in addition come up with their own.

In the past, he’s focused on the budget, but in a speech last week outlined his views on how governmental anti-poverty programs should be restructured to encourage innovation, promote a more vibrant federalism and perhaps actually work. It’s sparked a lot of discussion, and the left, emotionally wedded to the Democratic programs of the ‘60s and earlier, are expressing outrage at the very idea that anyone would dare tamper with them.

Thus, E.J. Dionne Jr., that defender of all things liberal, charges that Mr. Ryan’s reforms are simply an attempt to gut the food-stamp program and other anti-poverty programs by rolling them into block grants and shipping them off to the states where devious governors who have proven themselves enemies of the people by refusing to set up Obamacare exchanges will somehow divert the money to help the rich rather than the poor.

In his speech, Mr. Ryan no doubt thought he dealt with such criticism in advance. He said rather clearly that what he proposes is that “in effect, the state would say, ‘Give us some space, and we can figure this out.’ And the federal government would say, ‘Go to it — on four conditions: First, you’ve got to spend that money on people in need — not roads, not bridges, no funny business. Second, every person who can work should work. Third, you’ve got to give people choices. The state welfare agency can’t be the only game in town. People must have at least one other option, whether it’s a nonprofit, a for-profit, what have you. And fourth, you’ve got to test the results. The federal government and the state must agree on a neutral third party to keep track of progress. That’s the deal.’”

That language may fool some of the people, but not E.J., who, like most big-government liberals, loves centrally directed programs from Washington and sees the states not as “laboratories of democracy,” but as just another tool in the hands of conservatives dedicated to thwarting the national will. Mr. Ryan, on the other hand, sees value in the federal system and proposes actually testing his ideas in the states before imposing them the entire country.” Mr. Dionne, who loathes Mr. Ryan’s every idea and admits he doesn’t “trust” the states, suggests that at best this means liberals can “Thank God for small favors.”

Liberal politicians have spent trillions of tax dollars since Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in the ‘60s and have been about as successful as our armies in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They may have won a few small battles, but after decades, they still can’t see light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s time for a new approach, and instead of spending their time defending tactics, strategies and weapons that don’t work, they should be pleased that folks like Mr. Ryan are working on new strategies, tactics and weapons.

There is much in Mr. Ryan’s plan that should appeal to both liberals and conservatives, and it deserves better than a massive attempt to kill it in its cradle by liberals and Democrats who live in fear that a conservative Republican might come up with a better idea.

The plan is not perfect, but it merits far more serious consideration than it will get from the E.J. Dionnes of the world. Unfortunately, even the smartest among us can come up with or embrace ideas of questionable value, and that’s what Mr. Ryan has done in proposing continual counseling for the poor by bureaucratic caseworkers who will help them develop better “life plans” with “goals,” incentives to help them on the road to achieving them and penalties when they fall behind. This smacks of the sort of nanny-state proposal one would get from, say, former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

There is no question that some of those trapped in poverty would benefit from advice, better work habits and even a push in the right direction, but the prospect of every poor family being assigned its very own bureaucrat is more than a little off-putting. One can imagine the family’s government minder calling every morning to get everyone up on time, monitoring their grocery shopping to make sure they are eating right, and checking in later in the day to see how their job interviews or school day went.

The good news is that Mr. Ryan calls the 73-page plan he released in conjunction with his speech a “discussion draft.” We can only hope that in the process of discussing it, he will find ways to get the poor the counseling they may need without sliding down the slippery, paternalistic slope that leads to bans on fatty foods, soft drinks and baggy trousers.

David A. Keene is opinion editor of The Washington Times.

Sign up for Daily Opinion Newsletter

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide