A liberal ought to love Paul Ryan

>> Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You could start a story at the end of the 18th Century, beginning of the 19th. There was a vast expanse of Federal land, the Northwest Territory, and from this Federal land was carved a state, Ohio, and from this was carved a patch of land purchased from Congress with provision that a piece of the land be used for a public university, such places of education being a pet cause of so many of the country's founders. Miami University--a confusing name in that it conjures that seedy technicolor city down in Florida--was established by the new state of Ohio, to be paid for by taxpayers, on land provided by an act of Congress originally signed by one George Washington.

You could start with that, but all this is prologue; it comes a long way before the story we're more interested in.

You could start that one with a construction company, Ryan Incorporated Central. Not in Ohio, but in Wisconsin; and not at the beginning of the 18th Century, but at the other end of it, in 1884. The Ryan boys got in on the railroads, at first, those steel rails laid over the serpentine easements cut out of Federal lands by Congresses and Presidents who saw a great public-private partnership as being the way to knit a whole unimaginably (and seemingly insurmountably) vast continent together. But once the rails were built, the Ryan boys and their heirs didn't stop: they branched out into building the country roads of the interstate rural system, the Interstate highway system, a major public airport, and a multitude of other civic projects. They weren't motivated entirely by charitable goodwill and patriotism, one assumes, but they were certainly paid by it: state and Federal governments allocated the funds for these construction projects and solicited the bids; the taxpayers, through their elected representatives, laid out the work they desired and signed off on contracts with the companies who said they could do it on time and on budget. Ryan Incorporated did alright for themselves, and they deserved to and I don't think anyone begrudges them the work; but they had the work that allowed them a comfortable living precisely because of the wise hand of government coordinated by the collective will of The People. The People needed a highway, so they collected the tax revenue and redistributed this wealth in the form of checks to contractors like Ryan, Inc. The People needed an airport, they needed landfills and wetlands.

Come along a few years, and here's a scion of the Ryans, Paul Murray Ryan. A lawyer by profession, like his father, who was a United States Attorney in Wisconsin. But the story gets a little sad here, folks: Paul Murray Ryan died at a relatively young age, leaving a widow and four kids behind him.

Now, it happens that the Ryans were alright, because their great-grandfather founded that company that got all those government contracts, and was able to get a little something for himself while serving the public welfare. And their grandfather had done well in politics, and it seems the father did alright before he passed away. But it happens that if the Ryans hadn't been set up alright, all as part of a legacy of those government contracts back in the day (and ongoing through the present), there was a safety net established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1935 for situations like this, where everybody working contributes to a pool of money that everybody can later withdraw from in the event they are disabled or when they retire, or in the tragic case of a spouse or parent dying or becoming disabled. The Ryans didn't technically need it, so far as I know, but the point of the program is an all-in, all-out arrangement and the fact they didn't "need" it doesn't matter. The Ryans got the death benefits due from Paul Ryan's passing along, and if they had been on the brink of starvation or exposure, the money hopefully would have put food on their table or a roof over their heads, so they wouldn't die alongside the highways the Ryan company built, fugitives from poverty like Great Depression Okies.

Anyway, the youngest son, also named Paul Ryan, Paul Davis Ryan, he takes the money he gets by way of FDR's great social support system, and he puts it away for college. Good on him. And when Paul Ryan turns eighteen, he goes and enrolls in....

Well, you know, don't you? The past is prelude, and we began this story with Miami University, in Ohio. Public school, one of the oldest in the country. Paul Ryan--our Paul Ryan, Paul Davis--pays his out-of-state tuition with the dollars he got by way of a Federal program, a tuition that is subsidized to some extent by the taxpayer dollars of the citizens of Ohio, for whom Miami University is an annual fiscal item; I have yet to see the public university that is what they call a revenue-neutral budget item, the expenses of educating a generation evenly offset by alumni donations and tuition. But that isn't the point, is it? The university pays for itself ten thousand times over by inventing the future and protecting the past, a social investment that can't be measured in miserly terms of mathematical profit and loss, though I think people who try to do so will tell you that even there, an educated citizenry contributes more to the state's tax coffers in all kinds of ways.

But we digress. Paul Ryan, of the government-contracted family wealth and state-subsidized education, paying the difference by way of the money from a Federally-administered social insurance program; he goes to Miami University, he does well, and so he gives back, in his way, by taking a Congressional staffer position, working for the Federal government. He had a few brief stints in the private sector, contrary to what you might have heard, but, to be fair, the longest job he ever held that wasn't a college-beer-money McJob was a yearlong gig as a consultant. After that year, he ran for Congress and now he draws a government paycheck.

So do I. Nothing wrong with that. Me, I'm grateful to know which side my bread is buttered on. Those of us in the public sector work hard and earn little, for the most part, but carry the satisfaction of knowing we've put a little something towards the greater weal.

But let us look at this man, Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. A liberal should love him, for he is a triumph of the liberal state. No, seriously. The liberal, I think, envisions a government that embodies the People's will and effects that will; a government that is not large for the sake of largeness, but rather that is as large as (or as small as) what the Public needs in order to turn whatever consensual ideals we can agree to into a reality that is better for all, from the richest to the poorest, the weakest to the strongest. A government that builds roads through the wilderness to tie communities together, a government that builds schools at the ends of those roads for the betterment of the communities' minds and souls, a government that encourages individuals to come and give something of themselves back to their communities. Paul Ryan is an example of what the liberal agenda can achieve: a public servant whose successes are directly attributable to public investments, who clearly thinks for himself and, in his way, gives back to the society that gave him so much to start with. A product of our road-building and school-building and civic democracy. Should you ask me, "Why should I pay for these roads, why should I pay for these schools?" I ought to be able to reply, "So that Society can produce men like Paul Ryan, highly-functioning, educated, public servants who might one day serve as leaders in the highest offices of this great land, this great community of communities we call 'United'."

Liberals ought to love Paul Ryan, at least insofar as we ought to love what he represents: the triumph of our ideals.

Begs the question, really: why doesn't he love us?



8 comments:

Warner Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 7:02:00 AM EDT  

Things may have changed in the 20 years between me being on SS Orphan benefits and Ryan. SS didn't tell me that was my money, they sent the check to my mother, she cashed it and screamed bitterly about the roughly 50% she actually doled out to me for college and expenses in the vacations I was home.

If the same sort of thing happened to Ryan, either the program is wrong or his mother was wrong.

And if he was the oldest child receiving the benefit, it was a serious amount of money, in my case about one third of my annual expenses; to include college tuition, room, board and books at a private college.

Eric Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 9:25:00 AM EDT  

Paul Ryan was the youngest of the Ryan children, I understand; I couldn't say how that affected his benefits, only that he did receive death benefits from his father's passing and that they were set aside for college because the family was well-off enough without them they weren't starving.

I'm sorry to hear about the situation in your family, Warner. My own second-hand experience through dealing with people on various kinds of benefits is that abuses do occur, with parents receiving their children's benefits and using them for things that don't really have anything to do with the child, or at least not directly. I frankly don't know how those kinds of abuses could be controlled without expanding the role of government in the family sphere (I'm a believer in Big-enough Government, but that might be too big even for me) or if those abuses should be stopped (see the previous parenthetical; family expenses are a complicated enough thing, and the fact that a parent's expense isn't of primary benefit to the child doesn't mean it isn't of some incidental benefit).

Those institutional or pragmatic concerns don't change the fact that no kid ought to have to deal with that (and I mean "kid" loosely, from early childhood to college age). I really am sorry it was something you had to go through on top of your Dad's passing away, Warner.

Steve Buchheit Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 10:31:00 AM EDT  

It may help to know that in the minds of most of Miami's students, they're attending a "private" school. My wife has her PhD from there and we lived in Oxford for two years (the same time Mr. Ryan was attending). It's a strange weirdness that happens; in Ohio, Miami is often left off people's mental lists of "state schools."

Eric Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 11:10:00 AM EDT  

Thanks for that insight, Steve--it actually does help: it may well be that one reason Ryan doesn't appreciate what a taxpayer-subsidized education did for him is that he's absorbed that mentality that Miami is a private university when it certainly isn't.

Warner Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 11:49:00 AM EDT  

The government could simply have informed me I had the right to the check in my name, without my mother's consent. However I don't think I had the balls to go against her, she actually tried to get my enlistment undone as I was under 21 and didn't have her permission (I only needed to be 18, although women had to be 21). Yes I'm still POed about it.

All children under 18 (22 for college students) receive a benefit. However in 1964 only the oldest qualifier received a significant amount. $110 and $30 for the first two and less than $30 for the rest.

So he could actually have had the money banked from older siblings. Please note I do not begrudge him the money in the slightest. It is an important benefit to many, my first wife went to college on it.

Eric Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 12:28:00 PM EDT  

Exactly: the point isn't to begrudge Paul the money--he and his family were entitled to it. The point is that Paul is a success story for the social safety net he disparages and would bring down.

Nick from the O.C.,  Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 3:51:00 PM EDT  

Damn me if this is not just about the best piece of writing I've seen here to date.

Elegant, even-handed, and vicious. All at the same time.

Kudos, sir.

P.S. I disagree with the usage of "alright" and would have preferred "all right" ... because we have to hold the line somewhere!

Eric Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at 8:48:00 PM EDT  

Thanks, Nick! I'm glad you thought the piece was...

...alright.

(Oh come on, I had to!)

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