The Corner

More Ryan v. Sperling on Debt & Taxes

Corner reader Joe Cor gets to the heart of the matter that I was trying to suggest in my admittedly dense post about the abstruse workings of budget statutes: “The issue at dispute here is, to put it mildly, rather wonky,” says he, “and that is a big part of the problem. If Ryan is already this far into the weeds in a public debate with the White House over this commission, how will the notoriously ungifted rhetoricians on our side of the debate ever win the argument?” 

Process and complexity always work for the Left and against us. The brute fact is: You can’t do small, non-intrusive government with a zillion statutes, rules, and regulations. You can’t lasso the gorging blob of deficit spending by placing “statutory caps” on the thousands of federal obligations that scoop up ever more tax dollars. You have to zero agencies out of existence and dramatically reduce government’s responsibilities.

If you grant that government has a role to play in every facet of life, you’ve already lost the argument and the rest is just details. You will not be able to nickel and dime your way to fiscal health over decades of “out years” — the demagogues will say that you are “destroying education, health care, retirement benefits, clean air, scientific research, edible food, the planet, etc., etc.,” even though what you’re really trying to reverse is government’s intrusion into these matters so that more efficient actors (like you, your community, and the market) can make better choices about what to do with our money. The media always sides with the demagogues, and since one Congress worried about debt today cannot bind a future Congress worried about the media tomorrow, you’ll never fix the problem through some complex legislative process.

Rep. Ryan is a very good guy and, by leaps and bounds, the GOP’s most effective wonk. He understands process inside and out, and he can translate it from wonk-speak into English. That, though, is the dangerous seduction of Ryan: He makes you think that maybe we can beat the other side at its own game. We can’t.

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