The End of the Social-Democratic Model: Will the Left Respond by Accepting Reality?

Yesterday, the only adult among a group of congressional kindergartners, Rep. Paul Ryan, released his budget proposal for the future. The Democratic establishment immediately responded with the kind of knee-jerk all-out attacks we have come to expect from them. Rep. Nancy Pelosi tweeted: “The #GOP Ryan budget is a path to poverty for America's seniors & children and a road to riches for big oil #GOPvalues.”  Not wanting to be outdone, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, said: “It is not courageous to protect tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies and other big-money special interests while slashing our investment in education, ending the current health care guarantees for seniors on Medicare, and denying health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans.”

It is the usual reactionary Democratic talking points, all meant to scare seniors, make the public believe their access to health care will come to an end, and create a scenario for huge tax increases to make up the deficit.

That is why I almost fell off my chair when I read the very liberal Jacob Weisberg, editor of the Slate Group, respond with a thoughtful article titled “Good Plan!” which states in the heading subtitle that Ryan’s budget proposal is “brave, radical and smart.” I can just see Slate’s readers scratching their heads and asking themselves what has happened to Weisberg. They must have thought for a brief moment that they had logged on to PJM or National Review Online by mistake.

Weisberg understands that there is a genuine problem, and that both Republicans and Democrats have, as he puts it, been lax in confronting “the nation's long-term fiscal imbalance, which is driven by the projected growth in entitlement spending.” Weisberg goes on to write that “this dynamic of political evasion and reality-denial may have undergone a fundamental shift today with the release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget resolution.”  Hoping that Republicans will get behind it, Weisberg writes that if they do, the Republican Party “will become for the first time in modern memory an intellectually serious party -- one with a coherent vision to match its rhetoric of limited government.”

Weisberg even argues that liberals, rather than respond in the fashion that they have already begun to, consider whether some of Ryan’s proposals might serve them, as well as the country. He doesn’t even reject Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher plan, and writes that “it’s hard to make a principled liberal case for the program in its current form.” And he adds that “Ryan’s alternative to Medicare hardly seems as terrible as Paul Krugman makes out.” The Ryan plan, he notes, is not one that spells an end to the social safety net. He writes:

Eventually, cost control would require some tough decisions about end-of-life care and the rationing of high-tech treatments that have limited efficacy. But starting with a value of $15,000 per year, per senior—the amount government now spends on Medicare—Ryan's vouchers should provide excellent coverage. His change would amount to a minor amendment to the social contract, not a fundamental revision of it.

Pointing out that Ryan’s proposal would provide “excellent coverage” for seniors is exactly the opposite of the scare tactics all other Democrats are engaging in. Failure to follow Ryan’s lead, he warns, could create a “debt-driven economic crisis” that would “cast a pall over the country’s entire future.” For a moment, Weisberg sounds like -- Glenn Beck!

Of course, Weisberg is still a liberal, who favors modest tax increases, and he has some criticism of the Ryan plan. Ryan, he argues, “skirts the question of which deductions and tax subsidies he’d eliminate to pay for these lower [tax] rates.” But he concludes that “more than anyone else in politics, Rep. Ryan has made a serious attempt to grapple with the long-term fiscal issues the country faces.” So I give kudos to Weisberg. He has dared to go against the liberal grain, and has congratulated Ryan for having a “largely coherent, workable set of answers.”

All of this leads me to highly recommend one of the most important essays written in many a year, by Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs. Levin’s article is the perfect companion piece to both Weisberg’s comments as well as Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Levin has written a very long philosophical piece that carefully delineates and critiques the liberal world-view, and that reveals the difference between how conservatives and liberals perceive the world around them.  His point is stated right at the beginning:

But these [regulatory agencies and the massive entitlement system] are mostly symptoms of our mounting unease. The most significant cause runs deeper. We have the feeling that profound and unsettling change is afoot because the vision that has dominated our political imagination for a century — the vision of the social-democratic welfare state — is drained and growing bankrupt, and it is not yet clear just what will take its place.