March 14, 2013 by Anders Ingemarson
In the past few days two U.S. congressmen have offered a study in contrast between passionate action based on moral conviction, and pragmatic action resulting from moral conflict.
I’m referring to Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster and Representative Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.
Sen. Paul gave us a brief glimpse of what is possible when a person who knows he’s right, and who is convinced that he has morality on his side, takes a passionate stand for individual rights, freedom and liberty. He demanded and received a statement from the Administration that drones will not be used against Americans on home soil. His passion was contagious, his convictions refreshing; finally someone who stood for something! He started out alone on the Senate floor, but as the day progressed, and as StandWithRand lighted up on Twitter, he was joined by other senators. In a small way, one could almost imagine what a “Washington Spring” would feel like.
Not so with Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal. He launched it with an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday titled “The GOP Plan to Balance the Budget by 2023”. If you think it is not the boldest of visions, you’re right. But it gets worse. The subtitle reads: “The goal can be reached, with no new taxes, while increasing spending 3.4% annually instead of the current 5%.” (emphasis mine) No, it’s not a typo. The man who has been lauded as the future of the conservative movement, a Tea Party darling, proposes a 3.4% annual increase in government spending (in this economy, when did you last get a 3.4% raise?).
In the editorial he goes to great length to ensure that Medicare will be strengthened when a moral stand against any government involvement in healthcare would have been the correct action.
There is no mention of Social Security when a bold plan for medium- to long-term dismantling and privatization would have been called for.
He talks about tax reform, which in his mind consists of minor tax cuts combined with closing loop holes.
Supposedly the proposal repeals ObamaCare in favor of “patient-centered reforms” but given the above level of ambition, I wouldn’t count on it.
And to repeat, in case you’re still in disbelief, he calls for spending increases, not spending cuts.
If this is what Washington Tea Party tactics amount to we’re in deeper trouble than I ever imagined.
What explains Mr. Ryan’s lack of principled passion and conviction? His comment on welfare reform gives us a clue: “We shouldn’t measure success by how much we spend. We should measure it by how many people we help.” Paul Ryan is morally conflicted. On the one hand, his faith tells him that altruism and sacrifice, the extent to which we help others, is the essence of being good. On the other, on some level, he probably believes in some version of the American Dream. But the American Dream, properly interpreted, is built on rational self-interest and individualism. It requires respect for our unalienable individual rights. Sure, you may choose to help others, but only if you get something in return (material or immaterial; temporary ease of guilt for not being charitable enough doesn’t count).
Unfortunately for Paul Ryan and everybody else in his shoes, altruism and rational self-interest are moral opposites. Trying to unite them can only result in bad compromises at best. His budget proposal is a textbook example.
We need to take a cue from Rand Paul. We have to look for principled and passionate leaders to defend our rights on a solid moral foundation. I for one will be looking for the filibusterers-to-be who will champion the moral case for separating state and the economy. This carries the promise of a real “Washington Spring”.