By Judd Gregg - 08/28/12 09:00 AM EDT
Once when I was sitting on the floor of the House waiting for a vote to be completed, Jack Kemp, the ever-effusive and constantly creative conservative leader of the time, came up to me and said:
“Judd, tell me a four-letter word that would put our country back on track.”
“No, no,” Jack said with some amount of disgust. “ ‘Gold’ — it’s ‘gold,’ ” and he bounced off up the aisles of the House to corner his next victim.
In fact, “Kemp” was a much better answer.
Jack brought a totally unique dynamic to the American conservative movement.
He was genuinely concerned about people who were stuck living the lost lives of the inner cities and other areas of revolving poverty and despair. And he was constantly coming up with ideas based on the conservative themes of self-help and market incentives to address the failures in our nation. He was a caring conservative long before the term even existed and certainly before it became trite.
Now, if we are to believe The Wall Street Journal and the Romney campaign, we have a new four-letter word: “Ryan.”
Paul Ryan does seem to have that infectious niceness about him that made Jack Kemp so likable. He also has important ideas.
It is truly ironic that the liberal media, which so fawns over Barack Obama, swears unquestioning allegiance to a president who has no thoughts that even have a scent of originality to them. He has delivered no ideas that were not tried (and for the most part failed) in the time of the Great Society and the social justice movements of the 1960s. Paul Ryan is offering something rather unusual and genuine — ideas and initiatives built off the basic principles that got America where it was to begin with.
Listen to what he has proposed for a budget.
It is fairly simple. He suggests we live within our means.
The federal government should not spend more than it takes in year after year, but should move toward just spending what it does take in.
He also suggests — although this point is conveniently ignored — that we can increase government revenues.
We do not do this by raising tax rates. As anyone with a scintilla of integrity knows, the wealthy often pay less as rates rise because they hire the accountants and attorneys who tell them how to avoid the higher rates.
Rather, increased revenues are achieved by cutting rates and at the same time taking away the hiding places all those attorneys and accountants find by eliminating deductions and exemptions.
The practical effect of this approach is that you get a great deal more efficient use of capital and thus more economic activity and more revenues.
What you do not get is the class envy and national division that such envy brings about, which is at the core of the left’s need to feel it is accomplishing social good.
The Ryan Medicare plan is even more creative.
This might be because it came from a bipartisan think tank headed up by, among others, Alice Rivlin, who was Bill Clinton’s budget director.
If the Ryan Medicare proposal had been put into a bipartisan budget, rather than being rolled out in the partisan House Republican budget, one suspects it would have received a healthy embrace by numerous Democratic thinkers and even some Democratic congressional leaders.
Its only failure is that it was proposed in a partisan atmosphere, and the president now uses it as a one-liner for dividing the nation.
The actual proposal combines the strength of traditional Medicare — that seniors are guaranteed adequate medical care that is paid for — with the forces of individual choice that control the costs of that care.
This is simple in its premises but really revolutionary in its likely result.
The Ryan proposal would deliver healthcare to seniors that the younger generation, through their taxes, could afford to pay without having to reduce their standard of living.
It used to be, in the time of Jack Kemp, that ideas made a difference.
In the post-9/11 world, where for so many years we have been involved in simply trying to find our way forward as a nation, ideas have sort of disappeared from the landscape of political thought.
We have seen, for the last four years, certainly, a presidency of regurgitation and the petty populism of class warfare.
Now we have, in Paul Ryan, a person with some ideas. How refreshing is that? How needed is he?
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.