Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the Republican Party’s bookish former vice presidential nominee, is starting to look like a candidate for the presidency in 2016.
In August, Ryan will publish a book with a distinctly campaign-themed title, The Way Forward. On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission approved of a nationwide book tour sponsored by Ryan’s publisher and the Political Action Committee the Wisconsin congressman founded, Prosperity Action PAC.
“The book will address “the state of the conservative movement in America today, discuss how it contrasts with liberal progressivism, and explain what must be done to save what Representative Ryan refers to as the ‘American Idea,’” the FEC proposal read.
This development comes as the congressman prepares to deliver a major address on conservative social policy. Preliminary reports indicate that Ryan hopes to shape the conservative approach to a variety of contentious socio-economic issues including poverty, education, tax and regulation policy, criminal justice reform, and the consolidation and streamlining of social safety net programs.
Interestingly, Ryan, a fiscal conservative known for advocating budgetary restraint, will be advocating for smarter spending rather than austerity in his speech.
“People familiar with the matter said Mr. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t grow or slash the deficit. Instead, it would expand spending in certain areas, such as work incentives, and cut spending in areas that he will argue are not benefiting the poor,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The proposals will focus on increasing opportunities for low-income households instead of highlighting ways to cut social welfare programs, said Bob Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise who has spent more than a year visiting poor cities with Mr. Ryan.
“He’s coming up with a new construct and I’ve encouraged him,” Mr. Woodson said in an interview. “We cannot and should not generalize about poor people. There are the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. It used to be that way and it became politically incorrect. We are returning to some of the old values that served people very effectively until the welfare reforms of the 1960s.”
This is not Ryan’s first attempt to rebrand his party as one which addresses the concerns of poor and middle class voters. His first effort to address poverty issues from a conservative perspective, however, was met with a flurry of criticism from the left and including more than a handful of accusations of racism.
“We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with,” Ryan told a conservative radio host in March.
In spite of the fact that this precise sentiment was expressed by President Barack Obama, among others, liberal commentators and Democratic congressional representatives said Ryan had exposed his own racial antipathy in this statement.
“When Barack Obama says such things, which are undeniably correct, he is a brave truth-teller; when Paul Ryan says them, he is making an odious play for racist votes,” National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote at the time.
Ryan apologized and clarified his comments, but he shouldn’t have. The manufactured outrage over the House Budget Committee chairman’s choice of words was inevitable, and the charge that Ryan is indulging in “dog whistle” racism will surely be resurrected in the coming months. The attack is an result of the fact that the liberal approach to anti-poverty efforts has few successes to tout. The last defense of the progressive entitlement state is to impugn the motives of those who seek to reform it.
In spite of the objective failure of the War on Poverty to achieve its goals, Democrats continue to enjoy the legacy benefits associated with that campaign. It is a factor contributing to the vast gap between Democrats and Republicans on which party is more trusted to care about everyday concerns important to the vast majority of middle and lower class voters. Any Republican effort to chip away at the perception in the press and among left-of-center voters that the Democratic Party maintains a monopoly on empathy must be vigorously resisted.
Paul Ryan is in for a brutal summer and early fall, but he can take it. His will be a smart campaign aimed at peeling off some layers of President Barack Obama’s winning electoral collation ahead of 2016. At least, that’s what the congressman’s “book tour” looks like in July.