By Paolo von Schirach
August 19, 2012
WASHINGTON – Martin Wolf, distinguished The Financial Times economics writer, decided to add his prestigious voice to the chorus of those ridiculing Paul Ryan’s fiscal recipes. With ample quotes from a previous The New York Times op-ed piece by former OMB Director David Stockman, (see above link for my own commentary on that same piece), plus his own analysis, Wolf concludes that Ryan’s numbers on how to fix federal spending do not add up. He is totally mistaken, implausible, possibly fraudulent. (Paul Ryan does not offer a credible plan for America, The Financial Times, August 18-19, 2012).
This is more than rating an academic paper
I most certainly respect the opinions of distinguished practitioners and learned writers. But I sense that they fail to catch that right now the exercise is not akin to reviewing an academic paper, looking for inconsistencies and theoretical weakness. Here we are talking about leadership. And the real substance of leadership in America is in providing a broad sense of direction that the general public will embrace. I hope that Wolf and the others are not questioning the broad policy goal, firmly espoused by Romney-Ryan, and carefully avoided by Obama-Biden, that the country alreday deeply in debt needs to stop spending money it does not have.
Moreover, national leadership is also about creating optimism and faith in the future, and this is what Paul Ryan brought to the Republican campaign, right at a time in which most Americans believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Ronald Reagan was ridiculed
May be we forgot that Ronald Reagan in 1980 was ridiculed by the serious intellectuals of the day as a paleo-conservative with weird ideas, as an improbable California curiosity who could not possibly be embraced by a national audience. In the end, Reagan won the Republican nomination and the elections –twice. But Reagan real success was in his ability to re-energize America. And he could do this because he could communicate his contagious and genuine faith in this country.
Nobody can really be sure of how Ryan’s fiscal overhaul plans would play out in reality. Besides, plans are one thing, actual legislation is another and its implementation quite often is an entirely different matter.
Ryan brings enthusiasm
But what pundits fail to notice is that Ryan brings much more than budget plans to this campaign. He brings his faith in America’s possibilities. He says with conviction that America does best when it is reconnected with its free enterprise roots. Therefore less government is better than more. A simplified tax system would be better than the mess we have now. Less welfare and more self-reliance would also be better, not just for federal finances, but for the recipients. People need to become empowered, not perennially dependent. Well, in a nutshell this is what Ryan is preaching.
But, even more than the content, I sense that voters will be able to connect with this messenger because of his personality. In the empathy department what Romney lacks Ryan seems to have in large quantities. More than anything else, America needs optimism. And Ryan has rejuvenated the Romney political message, making it more real and more appealing.
Obama was embraced because of his eloquence
In a different context, likability worked extremely well for Barack Obama back in 2008. Nobody voted for Obama on the basis of a record that he did not have. Indeed, let us not forget that Barack Obama became president of the United States with zero, repeat zero, executive experience. And yet Obama was enthusiastically embraced by young voters, among others, because he was a “new politician” who seemed to incarnate a new way to carry on public discourse. He appeared idealistic, inclusive, visionary, “different” in every possibly way, articulate, charismatic, energetic.
Faith in America
Paul Ryan, along with his ”back to basic American principles” faith, brings along a different brand of genuinely optimistic personality. While he dwells on the damage caused by excessive public spending, he also sounds positive about solutions. “We can do this“, “We can turn this around“, he keeps saying at rallies. He is articulate, yet he talks in a simple way. He appears principled; but not bellicose. The fact that he has been re-elected so many times in his Wisconsin district, a district that always votes Democratic in national elections, reveals that he is respected by voters who may be to his left on many issues.
America needs a smaller government while firing up more free enterprise. This is the direction where Romney-Ryan want to lead the country. I think that this is a better course than the mildly social democratic direction pursued by Obama, with his faith in government sponsored programs on this and that. Obama leads an administration incapable of real change, lest this would offend all those who thrive on the status quo: the Teamsters, the public employees unions, the teachers unions, assorted minorities clamoring for more subsidies, the Sierra Club and what not. Look, there is nothing wrong in lending a hand to those Americans who struggle. But the goal should be to make them self-reliant, not to tell them not to worry because Uncle Sam will always be there, supporting them for ever.
The trick for Romney-Ryan is to be able to recreate enthusiasm for old-fashioned American self-reliance, while showing genuine eagerness to provide real tools for the millions of Americans who today are not in the game. This is difficult but not impossible.
Americans feel more comfortable when they really like the people in charge. If Romney appears wooden, Ryan is truly likable. His enthusiasm has energized the campaign. Does tired, shop worn, and almost comical Joe Biden create the same level of genuine enthusiasm among Democrats? What do you think?
In the old western movies you always wanted a young, sturdy, ernest and occasionally funny John Wayne at the head of the caravan headed towards the unknown Western wilderness. He would be the man in the lead, issuing the order to the assorted groups of would-be pioneers to move forward: “Wagons Ho!”
A listless America will become like Europe
Is enthusiasm alone enough for good leadership? No. You also need some brains and pragmatic common sense. But, for sure, without leaders who can effectively communicate genuine enthusiasm about first principles of enterprise, America will fold and become listless, just another big Europe.Print This Post