Adapted from the February 24, 2014, issue of National Review
It was an important step forward for Republicans. They could have continued to deploy their anti-spending fervor against the discretionary side of the budget rather than taking on the larger, faster-growing, and politically trickier entitlements. They could, that is, have adopted a posture rather than a policy. Medicare reform was a sign the party was interested in governing again. Control of entitlements is after all a fiscal precondition for reform conservatism, or any other serious agenda.
Yet no larger agenda followed the Medicare initiative. Republicans’ advocacy of Medicare reform did not sink them, as Democrats had hoped, but neither did it supply an answer to voters’ concerns about the status of the American dream. And even as Ryan’s boldness got him a spot on the Republican ticket, it seems to have exhausted the appetite for innovation on the part of his colleagues. The Republicans were still narrowly focused on cutting spending.