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Paul Ryan says GOP must become ‘a party of proposition’

Jana Noonan Photography
Paul Ryan speaking to a gathering in Minneapolis hosted by the Center of the American Experiment on Monday.

In the age of Obamacare, Republicans in Congress have much in Washington to oppose and will continue to do so, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan told a downtown Minneapolis audience Monday. But in 2014, Republicans must transition from being the “party of opposition” to “a party of proposition.”

It’s just a phrase and time will tell whether Ryan and his party deliver a clear alternative on health care and other issues as they seek in November to win control of both houses of Congress. Ryan did not offer those explicit alternatives Monday in a lunch talk to the righty Center of the American Experiment. Nor did he discuss the recent controversy surrounding one of his remarks that has been characterized by some liberals (including Paul Krugman) as a racist dog-whistle.

Playing on the name of the host organization, Ryan said the center of the American experiment is the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” Ryan did not acknowledge the long-established findings that social mobility in America — the likelihood of moving up the spectrum of wealth and class over the course of a lifetime — is lower than in Canada or much of Western Europe.

Entitlement state

But his overall remarks clearly implied that, to the degree that is so, it is the fault of liberalism and the growth of the entitlement state. Building on previous presentations he has made in this, the 50th anniversary of the declaration by President Lyndon Johnson of a war on poverty, Ryan said that poverty is winning. The portion of Americans living in what Ryan called “deep poverty” is the highest on record, he said.

The problem, he said, is that the war on poverty turned the basic principle of the American experiment — a limited government that guarantees a set of “natural rights” and creates an equality of opportunity — into a system that seeks to guarantee “equality of outcomes” based on new set of “government-granted rights,” which now includes a “right to health care.”

But the rollout of Obamacare has been an “unfolding disaster,” Ryan said, predicting that even if it isn’t repealed, the program will “implode” on its own.

Ryan, as you likely know, is a Wisconsin congressman who was the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2012, chairs the House Budget Committee, and is considered a possible presidential candidate for 2016. On Monday, he said little about the 2012 campaign and nothing about 2016. But during the question-and-answer portion of the program, Ryan had an opportunity to revisit and revise one of the low moments of the Mitt Romney candidacy.

The 47 percent question

A man in the audience said that 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, benefit from the welfare state, and will never vote for Republicans, so what does Ryan propose to do about it.

I have no idea whether this was a set-up, but Ryan was definitely ready for it and said what I’m sure Romney wishes he had said on a similar, famous, supposedly non-public occasion in 2012.

Ryan said it was a “mistake” to assume that people on welfare, whom he described as “net consumers of government,” want to perpetuate that condition. “They don’t,” Ryan said. “They want to get on with their lives” and will respond to a Republican message of opportunity and job creation.

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, Ryan closed with a pretty good joke about his great-great-grandfather, the first of his family to make it to America. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I hadn’t.)

Great-great-grandfather was on his deathbed, and his brother-in-law was attending. Great-great-grandfather asked if he could prevail on brother-in-law for a last favor. Of course, of course.

Underneath this bed is a bottle of fine Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, great-great grandfather said, that he brought over from the old country and that has been aging to perfection all these years. He asked that brother-in-law bring the whiskey to his funeral and pour its contents over the casket so great-great-grandfather could savor it for all eternity.

Of course, replied brother-in-law, “but would you mind if I passed it through my kidneys first.”

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Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/18/2014 - 10:33 am.

    And that’s what the Paul Ryan’s

    are doing to us.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/18/2014 - 10:43 am.

    No intellectual integrity or capacity

    The problem with Republicans and contemporary conservatives is a complete absence of intellectual capacity. I don’t see a single conservative intellectual or even commentator that is capable of doing any legitimate intellectual work. Their hopelessly trapped in (and know some around here are sick of reading me write this) high school debate mentalities.

    There are two basic problems:

    1) Republicans like Ryan actually don’t believe in Democracy, they don’t trust the will of the people. Hence their constant attempts to circumvent votes in favor of dictatorial impositions base on their “principles”. At a very basic level they don’t believe we should govern according elections, rather we should govern according “principles” regardless of elections.

    2) Their “principles” are awful. If it weren’t for bad idea they’d have no ideas at all. Trickle down economics, culture wars, “small” government”, etc. are all either really bad ideas or simply incoherent talking points. For instance the notion of “limited” or “small” government is incoherent because no one on the American political landscape has ever championed unlimited government. This isn’t even a conservative principle because the whole notion of “limited” government was a liberal idea that emerged from the Enlightenment. When our founding father were building checks and balances into our Constitution (i.e. creating a liberal democracy) conservatives of the era were Royalists and Monarchist who believed in absolute rule by absolute rulers. Conservatives of the era were afraid that democracy would lead to mob rule.

    It may take a while but the Republican party has already jumped off the intellectual cliff, and mediocre minds like Ryan’s are not going to save them. They think they have a branding problem, in fact their intellectually bankrupt. The only way they can sell their “principles” is to obscure them and resort to basic dishonesty. In fact, dishonesty had become one of their primary principles and until they decide to change that either they are doomed, or we are doomed should they ever take the power they covet.

    • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 03/18/2014 - 10:35 pm.

      WOW! such hate speach

      So….hope and change for you was intellectually stimulating?

      • Submitted by jason myron on 03/19/2014 - 07:40 am.

        Intellectually stimulating?

        Well a lot more so than..”. “What the left is offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul…” You folks should really put that on a bumper sticker. It’s a winner… me.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/20/2014 - 09:39 am.

        Too clever by half Ron

        The problem with your stereotypical “liberal” is… well it’s a stereotype. Believe it or not liberals existed long before Obama got elected and unlike conservatives we don’t organize our lives around political slogans or simplistic stereotypes. Liberals understand the “Hope and Change” was a simply campaign slogan, that’s why the only people who ever refer it now are people like you, not liberals.

        By the way, you clearly don’t know what “hate” speech actually looks like.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/18/2014 - 10:53 am.

    Social mobility

    Paul Ryan’s comments most likely were referring to his mother.

    If you read his bio, you learn that his father died when Paul was 16. After the death of her husband, and as the sole breadwinner for the family, his mother went back to UW Madison to learn interior design, graduated, and then started a successful interior decorating business.

    • Submitted by Amy Farland on 03/18/2014 - 11:30 am.

      social mobility

      she was the widow of a physician who was part of a family business that had huge conracts with government. Hers is not the case of a rags to riches story…

    • Submitted by Amy Farland on 03/18/2014 - 11:33 am.


      his father was a lawyer, not a physician. And instead of using the survivor benefits to support the family (as they are intended), he banked the money and used it to pay for college. So the family business was dependent on government contracts for nearly all of its business and his college was paid for by ‘entitlements’ …. he has been dependent on government jobs his entire career and has the chutzpah to talk about government dependency.

    • Submitted by Rich Crose on 03/18/2014 - 01:16 pm.

      There’s the Hypocrisy

      When his father died Paul Ryan’s family collected his father’s Social Security to help them get by.

      In his world, this would never have happened. Darn takers!

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/18/2014 - 01:27 pm.

      And who paid

      her tuition and other expenses?
      I recall reading that Ryan is the heir of several generations of lawyers.
      His great grandfather founded a construction company.
      In this case, “sole breadwinner” does not mean that she supported a family mainly through her wages.

  4. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 03/18/2014 - 11:00 am.


    Ryan’s choice of that joke is so illustrative of a mean spirited person.

    1) rejecting a death bed request
    2) no offer of a suggestion that the bottle be shared with others with a toast to the departed.
    3) pissing on someone’s casket is as disrespectful to the person and to the religious ceremony

    That dude has a lot of anger!

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 03/18/2014 - 01:00 pm.

      Why so serious?

      Please. The joke is funny, the moreso because it was told by an Irishman. I may oppose Ryan’s politics, but I can laugh at his jokes. If we can’t learn to laugh together, how in the world are we going to work together?

  5. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/18/2014 - 11:40 am.

    Good luck with that

    Modern conservatives are defined by their opposition. They can give you a long litany of everything they hate or oppose. Conservatives have not distinguished themselves by favoring anything, and getting them to change their thinking from “I’m against anything Obama favors,” to “I’m in favor of . . .” is going to require a massive paradigm shift for them.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/18/2014 - 04:53 pm.

      Conservatives don’t hate anything

      We oppose anything that would deprive you of your freedom, your fear of such freedom notwithstanding.

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/19/2014 - 02:23 pm.


        Unless your want vote and get married, or go to public schools, or negotiate a fair wage for your labor, etc. etc. in which case conservatives are constantly trying to deprive you of your “freedom”.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/18/2014 - 11:42 am.

    Passing through the kidneys

    …is certainly the approach I’d recommend for Mr. Ryan’s alleged ideas.

    In order to become (again) anything more than a right-wing echo chamber, the Republican party will almost certainly have to adopt the approach Ryan recommends. As a former member of the now-extinct “moderate Republican” portion of the voting population, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for “…the Party of ‘No’,” and it’s only with sensible alternatives to Democratic proposals that I’ll even consider Republican candidates. Becoming a party of “proposition” instead of simply “opposition” seems to me the only sane response to the policy black hole that has absorbed everything except right-wing cant over the several years.

    Mr. Ryan’s faith in “… the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life” is touching, but increasingly delusional. Ossification of socioeconomic status is one of the facts of life in the United States of the 21st century. There will continue to be a few who, in effect, win life’s Lotto ticket, but the more wealth and power that flows to the 1%, the less likely it is that “opportunity” in the broad sense will be available to all to the degree it was for our grandparents and great-grandparents. That’s not entirely the fault of the wealthy, who are merely protecting their own narrow interests with tax laws and purchased legislators. 19th century America – which had its own version of the present in the “Gilded Age” – was still largely wide open, with seemingly inexhaustible supplies of almost any commodity one might think of and a bullet-proof environment that benignly accepted whatever chemical outrage we tossed at it. There didn’t seem to be any limits to what industry might produce in either the city or the countryside, and government was essentially the captive of industry. Even Republicans realized by the turn of the 20th century that “hands-off” was neither a rational nor a constructive response to unfettered capitalism and corporate influence.

    I’d be more sympathetic to the argument of a “limited government” that guarantees a set of “natural rights” and creates an equality of opportunity if history had shown that such a limited government would, in fact, deliver on that promise. Our history – and that of many other industrial nations – shows unequivocally that that’s not the case. Attempts on the part of more modern governments to correct the massive inequalities of industrial capitalism have sometimes been inept, sometimes perversely disastrous, but that’s due to human flaws and failures, not because the system we have is so perfect that it bears no examination nor needs no improvement.

    While I’m not willing to grant health care as a “right” in the constitutional sense, it certainly seems to me to be a government service that this society can well afford. Virtually every other industrialized nation has found a way (sometimes multiple ways) to provide better health care to citizens, with healthier populations, better health care outcomes when care is needed, and all at considerably less cost than is the case here. The ACA is a creature of the insurance companies and the Republican Party, which first tried it out under Mitt Romney in Massachusetts – where that original version seems to be working pretty well. If it doesn’t work, and Mr. Ryan obviously hopes that it fails, at least part of the blame can be placed with the Republican model that the ACA follows.

    Since Mr. Ryan and his party remain the “Party of ‘No’” in regard to health care, never having produced a coherent alternative except to spout the laughable fiction that we have the best health care system on the planet, and keeping in mind that Republican television ads slamming the ACA have been show to be outright lies (increasingly a Republican political tactic), I think we can dismiss most of Mr. Ryan’s message by way of our own kidneys.

  7. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/18/2014 - 12:08 pm.

    First of all, the party of ideas–namely Ryan– has to step on the whole idea 47% being “takers, not makers”.

    When you move beyond the facile stereotypes, progress can be made.

    For those of you who don’t recall:


    Why these people don’t pay:

    —About half don’t earn enough money for a household of their size to owe income tax. For example, a family of four earning less than $26,400 wouldn’t pay.

    —About 22 percent get tax breaks for senior citizens that offset their income.

    —About 15 percent get tax breaks for the working poor or low-income parents.

    —Almost 3 percent get tax breaks for college tuition or other education expenses.

    Who they are:

    —The vast majority have below-average earnings: Among all who don’t owe, 9 out of 10 make $50,000 or less.

    —But some of the wealthy escape taxes, including about 4,000 households earning more than $1 million a year.

    (end quote)

    Eliminate the working poor, the retired and students and the percentage of “lay on the couch”, out-and-out “not working and not intending to work” population is a damn small percentage of the entire population.

    In order for theirs to be a “party of propositions” there first has to be a “party of recognition” that investigates the real world.

    Find out the particulars of a situation, first. THEN make some propositions.

    Otherwise, garbage in, garbage out.

    Until phoney intellectuals like Ryan can find the personal courage to point out the misconceptions such as the 47% it will remain GIGO in terms of ideas.

  8. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/18/2014 - 05:01 pm.

    All there is to say about Ryan’s ‘ideas’

    has been said by Paul Krugman.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/18/2014 - 06:26 pm.

      Paul Krugman

      from his safe, upper east side apartment just lost whatever remaining credibility he ever had about the poor.

      What does a Medicare recipient look like? Really? Uh, old, Paul. He looks old. A Medicare recipient is an old person who has paid his premium via his payroll tax since 1965.

      And Paul, they come in all colors.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2014 - 03:24 pm.

        No content

        as usual.
        Which Paul are you talking about?
        I am a Medicare recipient.
        Medicare (like Social Security) is not an insurance program which one buys by paying premiums; it’s an entitlement (that dirty word) ultimately financed by the full faith and credit of these United States.
        Also, while the majority of Medicare recipients are over 65, others with disabilities and some diseases are also covered.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/19/2014 - 11:45 am.


        Professor Krugman talked about recipients of Medicaid, not Medicare. I would say, “Nice try at deflection,” but it wasn’t.

        I also believe Professor Krugman lives in New Jersey.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/19/2014 - 03:19 pm.

          Since until this year

          Prof. Krugman’s main gig has been in the Economics department at Princeton, his main residence has been in NJ. Wouldn’t surprise me if he also had an apartment in Manhattan.
          Since I believe he is leaving Princeton for a gig in NYC, this may change.

  9. Submitted by Mr Utley on 03/18/2014 - 05:43 pm.


    Yes, the party will now propose the same vague nonspecific things and threats of gloom and doom upon the people of Minnesota as they did while in opposition.
    Golly, Mr. Ryan sure is clever with words, too bad he is so badly impaired when it comes to remembering his past, let alone actually coming up with a real workable “new proposal.”

  10. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/18/2014 - 07:48 pm.

    If an idea …

    is proposed and it leads to more social disintegration is it a positive idea ? Another word twisting scheme in the works !

  11. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/19/2014 - 06:09 am.

    Ryan’s Grandfather and the Potato Famine

    I’m surprised Ryan even brought up his grand father as a recent op-ed piece pretty much described how Ryan himself was pissing all over his Grandfather’s history as England used all the arguments Ryan now invokes to perpetuate poverty in Ireland during the Potato famine. It was one of the most complete skewerings of a politician that I’ve ever read. And of course, after his incredibly racist remarks about “inner city men” and their lazy lifestyle, etc. you’d think he’d shy away from this stuff. He obviously tempered his remarks a little for a more educated Minnesota audience and press but this guy is way out their with his radical social and political agenda. The truth is that Republicans have no idea how to compose intelligent fact based legislation. For example, their insisting on drug testing for welfare recipients has proved to be an economic disaster for states and of course ineffective. His support of voter suppression targets the same demographic as well. One thing he should be telling republicans: You can’t simply support the 1% and try to hoodwink the rest of the poeople. It’s just not going to work.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/19/2014 - 08:29 am.


      We’ll see if we can credit 1% of the population this fall when the republicans take over the senate. I guess 99% will forget to vote or something.

      • Submitted by Jon Lord on 03/19/2014 - 10:08 am.

        you mean

        You are suggesting the 99% won’t be allowed to vote? I remember a few votes ago when a car pulled up at a polling station and some suit and tie neo-Cons got out and one of them tried aggressively harassing an elderly man about where he lived. I kept stepping in his way forcing him into the street before he could get to the frail man. The neo-Cons finally called the police who came and told ‘them’ to leave. Those kind of tactics were being used by neo-Cons at several polling places in the cities.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 03/19/2014 - 12:24 pm.


        Love your predictions

      • Submitted by jason myron on 03/19/2014 - 01:46 pm.


        can we thank the same percentage when you dive back into the bunker after your prediction falls flat, just as it did back in 2012? You folks seem to be reading the same tea leaves that brought us a Romney presidency, GOP control of both houses and retaining control of the state legislature. Winning a special election in a 40 year, republican-held district in Florida by 2% points, which was won by 15% last time, sure has made you people cocky.

  12. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 03/19/2014 - 08:14 am.

    Ideas? What ideas?

    Republicans have been telling each other since the last presidential election that they need to be a party of ideas but no one is willing to step up and actually offer an idea. I think the problem is that they can either offer an idea that has the chance of actually gaining enough broad based support to become a law someday or they can offer an idea that won’t upset the base that they will have to face in the next caucus or primary. They can’t do both. They try to avoid this by offering ideas as vague as possible to try to slip it by enough people to get some traction.

    So how are all those Republican ideas doing over there in Wisconsin? Not so good?

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