Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has now laid forth his agenda for the Republican Congress—and while his advocates have praised him as a forward-thinking, public relations-savvy replacement for predecessor Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), his speech on Thursday didn’t show it.
Ryan led with a well-stated defense of Republican goals and a stirring indictment of President Obama:
This country has big problems. But if we do not have a president who will work with us, we will not solve those problems—that is, while they are still solvable. And whatever the Left may say, I know my colleagues in the House Republican conference. I know why they got into politics. We are not here to be someone but to do something—to serve our country.
Ryan then blasted President Obama for transforming the country for the worse and pointed out that Obama wins debates by playing identity politics. He pledged to “offer ideas.”
What would those ideas be that could unite the country after the divisive Obama era?
Ryan had plenty from which to choose. He could have talked about national security in detail, given American fears regarding ISIS. He could have talked about strengthening support for law enforcement, including border enforcement. He could have talked about fighting the Obama agenda to weaken America’s role on the world stage. He could have gotten tough and specific.
Instead, he trafficked in platitudes. “We want America to be confident again,” Ryan said. “We want people to believe in the future again. We want a country where no one is stuck, where no one settles, where everyone can rise.” On foreign policy, he said “We want a confident America—a purposeful America… We want America to lead again.”
And then he followed all of that up with a technocratic appeal on economics. He spoke of crony capitalism thusly: “That, to me, is the conservative insight: Don’t outsource to the bureaucracy. Crowdsource.”
Then, finally, he gave his top priority: “We owe it to the country to offer a bold, pro-growth agenda. And that is what we are going to do.”
For the next several minutes, Ryan spoke about lowering effective tax rates, closing loopholes, repealing and replacing Obamacare, individual tax credits for premiums, changing the structure of benefits programs to prevent disincentives on work, and the rest of the economics-first litany.
Somewhere, Mitt Romney smiled.
Only at the end of his speech did Ryan get to national security. He mentioned ISIS only in passing—“ISIS is a serious threat. We need a strategy to defeat it.” He mentioned our allies, only to say, “We need to give them support.”
Most importantly, however, Ryan ruled out any more government shutdowns. “We are not going to solve all the country’s problems next year,” Ryan explained. “We need a new president. It’s just that simple.” In other words, until a Republican is in the White House, don’t expect the Republican Congress to push hard enough for its priorities to override a Democrat. They’ll go along to get along mostly, pushing back along the margins, then hope for victory at the ballot box.
And when it came to indicting the left, he shied away: “We all know what the Left stands for. We all know what another progressive presidency would mean: just more of the same.”
Ryan is a softer, gentler conservative. His language is the kind of language coastal Republicans love—chiefly focused on economics, just critical enough of the left to draw a mild contrast, but broad enough in language to reach out to the middle. The problem is the contrast isn’t strong enough. It’s about the ineffectiveness of leftist policies, not the immorality of leftist policies. And so long as Republicans continue to talk about leftism as though it’s just a foolish alternative rather than a purposefully dangerous one, they’ll continue to stall.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News, Editor-in-Chief of DailyWire.com, and the New York Times bestselling author, most recently, of the book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.