Ryan’s Boca Lite Moment

Brother Steve Benen casts his usual bright spotlight this morning on a speech given by Paul Ryan about this time last year at an American Spectator event (first brought to public attention yesterday by Ryan Grim at Huffpost). It’s noteworthy because its theme is the same division of the American people into virtuous producers and lazy dependents that got Mitt Romney into so much trouble when he waded into those toxic waters a few months later. For a good part of the excerpt that Benen talks about, Ryan’s on exactly the same track:

The point is we are reaching a fiscal tipping point. The moral tipping point is even worse. And the moral tipping point is before too long we could become a society that we were never ever intended to be. We could become a society where the net majority of Americans are takers not makers.

Another great think tank, the Tax Foundation, runs lots of good numbers. Those of you who don’t know me, I’m kind of a numbers guy. Twenty percent of Americans, according to the Tax Foundation, get 75 percent of their income from the federal government, they’re dependent. Another 20 percent of Americans get 40 percent of their income from the federal government so their reliant. Today 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes.

So you could argue that we’re already past that tipping point.

But whereas in the same point in the chain of Randian logic Mitt Romney went right ahead and suggested the “takers” were lost causes, Ryan hedges a bit:

The good news is, survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows that we are a center-right 70/30 country. Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream, they believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want the welfare state. What that tells us is at least half of those people that are currently in that category are there not of their wish or their will.

Readers of Ayn Rand will recall that she always made a habit of identifying a few virtuous people among the “looters”–a worker proud of his company or product, for example. Similarly Ryan is allowing as how a big chunk of the government-dependent class really doesn’t want to be there, and thus would presumably not object to being “liberated” by policies that would shrink that suffocating security blanket of the “welfare state.”

As Steve notes, Ryan offers no particulars on which types of “takers” are still invested in the American Dream and which had become worthless parasites. I’m guessing he wouldn’t want to demonize those current Medicare beneficiaries he’s now promising to defend against the dastardly Obama cuts. More likely, it’s those people with their Obamacare and their food stamps that he has in mind as having already slipped out of red-blooded Americanism into some sort of moral hell.

In any event, Ryan’s Boca Lite approach to slicing and dicing the American people is a lot smarter, partly because it’s vaguer, and partly because if you’re going to divide the country into your team and the other team, it’s always smarter to make your team larger.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.