Listening to Paul Ryan’s acceptance speech in the convention hall last night evoked a similar transformative moment I witnessed in 1980 when Ronald Reagan reset the agenda for the Republican party.
Then-candidate Reagan took his pledge to cut taxes by 30 percent across the board, and he gave the Republican party a new mission. Instead of being stuck as the “tax collectors for the welfare state,” the GOP became the party of economic growth and opportunity. And Reagan’s policies did just that — spurring two decades of prosperity.
Paul Ryan and Ronald Reagan drew their ideas from the same man, Jack Kemp. “I learned a good deal about economics, and about America, from the author of the Reagan tax reforms — the great Jack Kemp,” Ryan told the audience last night. “What gave Jack that incredible enthusiasm was his belief in the possibilities of free people, in the power of free enterprise and strong communities to overcome poverty and despair. We need that same optimism right now.”
Ryan, like Kemp, is a happy warrior, ready to take on the challenge of a new century —reform of the welfare state. No one knows the frightening future we face better than Ryan, who can see through his deep study of budgets and finance the inevitable crisis ahead if we do not act. Governor Romney’s selection of Ryan shows he also knows Republicans must take on this challenge.
“In this generation, a defining responsibility of government is to steer our nation clear of a debt crisis while there is still time,” Ryan said.
The Romney-Ryan campaign clearly intends to focus on gaining a mandate for entitlement reform, singling out the 800-pound gorilla, Medicare.
President Obama missed his opportunity to tackle entitlement reform when he had a huge election mandate and strong majorities in both houses of Congress. Instead, “We got a long, divisive, all-or-nothing attempt to put the federal government in charge of health care” with “more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees, and fines,” Ryan said.
President Obama didn’t reform the crumbling infrastructure of Medicare — or Medicaid — and gave no indication he has any plans to tackle entitlement reform in a second term.
Ryan made it very clear that after more than 40 years of the party’s being on the defensive on Medicare, this Republican presidential ticket is ready to lead the change:
The biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly.
You see, even with all the hidden taxes to pay for the health care takeover, even with new taxes on nearly a million small businesses, the planners in Washington still didn’t have enough money. They needed more. They needed hundreds of billions more. So, they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama. An obligation we have to our parents and grandparents is being sacrificed, all to pay for a new entitlement we didn’t even ask for. The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we’re going to stop it. . . .
Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.
So our opponents can consider themselves on notice. In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the Left isn’t going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate.
Whether Republicans like it or not, Medicare is a promise to Americans. If we are going to save our economy and our ability to fulfill this promise for the future, change is absolutely essential. Otherwise, the status quo will prevail, and that is a path to decline.
Paul Ryan’s speech last night reset the agenda for the Republican party, perhaps for a generation. This is going to be a big fight — one that requires courage and big ideas. Last night’s speech shows Romney and Ryan are ready.
Posted on National Review Online: The Corner, August 30, 2012.