Paul Ryan’s missed opportunity

PAUL RYAN’S MISSED OPPORTUNITY…. The point of an opposition response to the State of the Union is to take issue with the president’s agenda and recommend a better alternative. To that extent, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was at least a marginally reasonable choice — his vision may be radical, but at least it exists.

But that’s what made the official Republican response last night so odd. The one guy in the House GOP majority who appears to have given some thought to the party’s vision on spending, entitlements, and debt spoke for more than 10 minutes without discussing his plan at all.

Ross Douthat noticed:

Ryan’s rejoinder was more urgent and more focused: America’s crippling debt was an organizing theme, and there were warnings of “painful austerity measures” and a looming “day of reckoning.” But his remarks, while rhetorically effective, were even more vague about the details of that reckoning than the president’s address. Ryan owes his prominence, in part, to his willingness to propose a very specific blueprint for addressing the entitlement system’s fiscal woes. But in his first big moment on the national stage, the words “Medicare” and “Social Security” did not pass the Wisconsin congressman’s lips.

What’s the point of giving the spotlight to the Republican with a plan and then having him avoid any mention of his plan? The answer is one GOP leaders probably know, but don’t want to talk about — the Ryan roadmap, encapsulating the Republican vision on the budget, is a radical mess. If Americans fully appreciated its contents, the electoral backlash would be severe.

As a consequence, we were left with a rather shallow GOP response. To be sure, it wasn’t as grating as Bobby Jindal’s speech in 2009, but that’s a fairly low bar to clear.

But it quickly became a pointless exercise. Paul Ryan is worried about the debt, but he offered literally nothing in the way of cuts. He’s terrified of spending, but didn’t even try to explain how he and his party would be fiscally responsible.

I’m not even sure who the intended audience was. President Obama’s speech seemed intended to appeal to the center, but Paul repeated tired Republican talking points, as if to reassure the GOP base that their party leaders haven’t changed at all.

And in case that wasn’t quite enough, the Budget Committee chairman not only offered a vague and evasive response, he also delivered a breathtakingly dishonest one, repeating obvious falsehoods that were so offensive, one can only assume the goal was deliberate deception.

If this was Paul Ryan’s first meaningful chance to shine on the national stage, it was a flop. The Ayn Rand acolyte had an opportunity, but he’s clearly not ready for prime time.