Paul Ryan Repudiates ‘Makers and Takers’ Language

by Michael R. Strain

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published last Friday, Representative Paul Ryan tells the story of attending a fair in 2012 in his hometown, Janesville, Wis. A man walked up to him.

“Hey, Paul,” he said, “I just need a minute. I’m from the Democrats’ tent, and I just wanted to come over here and give you a piece of my mind.”

He got up close and asked, “Who, exactly, are the takers?”

Mr. Ryan reflected on this incident over time, and wrote this in Friday’s WSJ:

Even so, that day at the fair was the first time I really heard the way the phrase sounded. Later, I thought about that guy from the Democrats’ tent, and eventually I realized: He’s right.

Mr. Ryan continues:

Who was a taker? My mom, who is on Medicare? Me at 18 years old, using the Social Security survivor’s benefits we got after my father’s death to go to college? My buddy who had been unemployed and used job-training benefits to get back on his feet?

The phrase gave insult where none was intended. People struggling and striving to get ahead—that’s what our country is all about. On that journey, they’re not “takers”; they’re trying to make something of themselves. We shouldn’t disparage that.

Of course, the phrase wasn’t just insensitive; it was also ineffective. The problem I was trying to describe wasn’t about our people; it’s a philosophy of government that erodes the American Idea.

Mr. Ryan goes on to discuss some of his thoughts on why the conservative vision is better than the liberal progressive vision, along with some of his new policy ideas. You really should read the entire op-ed, which you can find here.

— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at

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