Paul Ryan is a movement conservative.
But he may not be a good Speaker of the House.
Being a movement conservative means having conservative instincts on the issues: recognizing the power and virtue of the free market, believing in a government that protects individual rights instead of forwarding imposed notions of material equality. Being a good Speaker of the House means using all the tools at your disposal to stop the agenda of the left.
Two main theories have arisen about how Republicans can do this.
The first theory: Republicans must win a filibuster-proof majority of the Senate and a majority of the House as well as the presidency. If they don’t do this, the best they can do is hope to slow the left’s agenda slightly. In order to achieve this goal, Republicans should pass bills but not look impolite while doing this; they should involve themselves in a kabuki theater conservatism in order to promote their views for the next election.
The second theory: Republicans must use the tools they have. They are unlikely to ever control a veto-proof majority in the Senate if the Democrats hold the White House, and they are unlikely to control both houses of Congress and the presidency with sufficient votes to promulgate their agenda. That means not backing down in the face of fights, even if it means losing a few seats here or there.
Ryan’s early interviews as Speaker seem to indicate he subscribes to the first theory, which is bad news for actual movement conservatives. Ryan told CNN, “I think we need to be very clear about what we can and cannot achieve and not set expectations that we know we can’t reach given the constraints of the Constitution.”
Ryan continued by saying that he opposed funding for Planned Parenthood – “I don’t think Planned Parenthood should get a red cent from the taxpayer” – but then added, “I believe we need to do our oversight…I think being an effective opposition party means being honest with people upfront about what it is we can and cannot achieve.” He concluded:
We have a president that isn’t willing to listen, that isn’t going to sign lots of our bills into law, we have a Senate that has a very difficult process when it comes to actually getting bills voted on, so knowing that we have those constraints, we have to operate within those constraints.
Obama isn’t willing to listen, so Republicans must avoid using the power of the purse.
This is the John Boehner way of thinking. And hope that Paul Ryan represents anything new, by all the early indicators, will be in vain.