The craze around Paul Ryan just goes to show how unique a man of intelligence is within the ranks of the House Republican caucus. To find a member who has articulate ideas, for better or worse, is so rare that even those who find Ryan's proposals abhorrent find him to be..wait for the cliché...a breath of fresh air.
It didn't used to be this way. Once upon a time, policy-oriented Republicans existed. They sought to solve national problems through government programs. They tended to favor a slimmer government, but they prioritized the fiscal health of government over the bank accounts of the rich. It was not until the 1980's that Republicans began to prioritize tax cuts over balanced budgets. Even Bob Dole was extremely reluctant to endorse the radical cuts his running mate, Jack Kemp, stood for.
Granted, Paul Ryan by no means represents a rejection of Reaganomics or Bushonomics, for that matter. However, what makes him different from his GOP colleagues is that he is willing to offer alternatives for health care and tax policy that people can examine and criticize.
Rather than simply advocate lower income taxes and a repeal of Obamacare, Ryan puts forth a plan to fundamentally overhaul the way health care is bought and sold in America, through the elimination of favoritism for employers, the elimination of state boundaries for insurance and a $2500 tax credit for individuals to buy coverage. Some evidence suggests that Ryan's tax plan would be extremely regressive, resulting in a tax increase on all but the wealthiest Americans. But at least voters can see what they're getting before they vote for it.
The GOP's promotion of Paul Ryan into the spotlight highlights the schizophrenic nature of the party. On one hand, it has developed a reliable constituency of right wing populists, who care deeply about social issues and seek little more in economic rhetoric besides a commitment to tax cuts and social security and medicare. The other wing of the party is embodied on the Editorial Page of the Wall Street Journal. These people have almost nothing in common with the Sarah Palins of the world, and moreover, they are uneasy associating with the redneck brand of Republicanism. This is where Paul Ryan comes in.
Ryan is the House leaderships attempt to throw a bone to the few remaining conservative intellectuals in the country. Those who grimace at Sean Hannity and yearn for the days when being a Republican at Harvard was still cool. Or Andrew Sullivan, for that matter.
Ultimately, however, the rabble rules the day. The GOP will use Ryan to buff up its intellectual cred in certain monied circuits, however, it is highly unlikely that Republicans will do much about Social Security and Medicare. President Bush's attempts in 2005 put that idea to rest for a long time.
Which raises the next question? What does the GOP stand for?