Will Paul Ryan Measure Up To His Mentor Jack Kemp?
Paul Ryan recently, reluctantly, courageously, accepted the Speaker’s gavel in the House of Representatives. The terms on which he agreed to accept this very important post were his own, and dignified. His acceptance speech was impressive, promising to change the culture of the House in fundamental ways. Ryan, at his Kennedyesque best:
I often talk about the need for a vision. I’m not sure I ever said what I meant. We solve problems here—yes. We create a lot of them too. But at bottom, we vindicate a way of life. We show by our work that free people can govern themselves. They can solve their own problems. They can make their own decisions. They can deliberate, collaborate, and get the job done. We show self-government is not only more efficient and more effective; it is more fulfilling. In fact, we show it is that struggle, that hard work, the very achievement itself that makes us free.
Ryan promised the Freedom Caucus, and the Republican Conference, that he would return Congress to regular order and champion free market economic growth. All eyes are on him. Will he follow through?
In one of his first official acts Speaker Ryan convened the House Republican Steering Committee to elect a successor to the critically important chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. A hot contest ensued for this post. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) was contesting Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).
Brady was the more senior, clearly the more conservative (by all the conservative report cards), and as I earlier noted here, was considered by supply-siders as having, as described by PutGrowthFirst’s Rich Lowrie, “the best pro-growth chops in the House” ….
According to Politico, Tiberi, who campaigned in part on being the K Street favorite, “was seen as the favorite going in.”
But when decision time came, the new GOP leader went all in for his pick — and in doing so, offered an early glimpse of how he intends to exercise power.
Ryan could have voted silently, leaving it to the panel to select the chairman. Instead, after most in the room had already spoken, Ryan delivered his endorsement. He chose Brady….
Tiberi … historically raised more money than Brady. But it’s clear that wasn’t a factor.
Tiberi, a close ally of former Speaker John Boehner, was defeated….
The Steering Committee selection was conducted by secret ballot and vote totals remain unknown. Ryan has five votes and House Majority [Leader] Kevin McCarthy has two. The other 18 members have one apiece. Several members of the panel said Ryan’s impassioned plea delivered the chairmanship to Brady.
Ryan, thereby, delivered on his commitments to return to regular order and to lean further right than did his predecessor. He also pivoted toward Main Street rather than K Street. Ryan demonstrated his will to lead rather than take the path of least resistance. The Freedom Caucus should find out what he drinks and send him a case.
Most important of all, Ryan followed the example set by his mentor, Jack Kemp, making restoring prosperity his key priority. Ryan earlier had made the promising move of recruiting Rep. Jack Kemp’s very own former chief of staff, Dave Hoppe, as the chief of staff of the Speaker’s office.
To understand better where Ryan is likely to go it is invaluable to understand Kemp (in whose outer circle I was counted back in the day). We are blessed, now, by the recent publication of an excellent biography, Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America, by two of Washington’s savviest political journalists, the centrist Morton Kondracke and the center-right Fred Barnes.
Kondracke and Barnes followed Kemp closely, as reporters, in his heyday. They were the ideal choice to produce a biography. The biography has been making waves in its own right, with attention across the elite media, from a cover story excerpt in influential conservative Weekly Standard to commentary in The Wall Street Journal, to much more exposure than here can be enumerated. This attention is a tribute both to Kemp and to the book.
As an aside, the two strangest reviews may have been those of the The Atlantic by genial conservative apostate David Frum and the New York Times by center-leftist Politico editor Tim Noah. Both reviewers present as economic reactionaries seeking to discredit the supply-side policies quarterbacked by Kemp. To the cavils of these two worthy adversaries I have two crisp observations. As I have elsewhere written (in press):
Supply-side economics transformed America and the world into a vastly more prosperous place. Supply-side economics, championed by Jack Kemp and put into effect by Ronald Reagan, then extended by Bill Clinton, propelled America, and the world, to unprecedented heights of prosperity.
On November 13, 1979, the day Ronald Reagan declared for the presidency, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 814. (No, there’s no comma missing.) It’s now at 17,000. Supply-side having been picked up from America by many world leaders propelled world annual GDP, then around $11 trillion dollars in 1980, to over $60 trillion today.
Note in passing: the Dow closed at 17,910 on Friday, November 6th. And although the figures cited above are not adjusted for inflation or population growth they are telling and impressive. Not too shabby for a “disaster” (as Kemp-Roth was slurred by Noah).
Kemp is a biography, and much more. Kemp is history, and much more. Kemp may be one of the best books ever written on the way the world (of Washington) works, rivaled in that category only by George Crile’s masterpiece Charlie Wilson’s War. Kemp is an epic tale, and much more.
Kemp is all of these. Kemp is much more.
Kondracke and Barnes’s Kemp may be the Rosetta Stone to the meaning of a new political era we appear, abruptly, to be entering. As Paul Ryan, now one of the most important political heavyweights in Washington, wrote in advance praise:
“Jack Kemp was my mentor, and he inspired a whole generation of conservatives to think big. In this book, Mort Kondracke and Fred Barnes write with the same infectious energy that Jack had. Jack taught Republicans to speak to people’s aspirations, and this is the story of how he did it. Anyone who wants to spark an ‘American Renaissance’ should read this book.”
The importance of Kemp and the significance of this book goes well beyond Ryan.
October and November produced a sea change in the Republican narrative and, hence, in Republican Party politics. Along with the ascension of Ryan and Brady the tenor of the Republican presidential race changed. Two formidable stars in the presidential contest, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), visibly are emerging.
At the CNBC presidential debate Cruz put forward the most Kempian economic platform of any of the candidates. He dramatically unveiled a flat tax (authored by Kemp’s own economic guru, Arthur Laffer) and forthrightly stated
“We need sound money. And I think the Fed should get out of the business of trying to juice our economy and simply be focused on sound money and monetary stability, ideally tied to gold.”
Both of these are torn directly out of the Kemp playbook.
Rubio, accepting the Jack Kemp Leadership Award in 2012, said:
“I am so honored to be receiving this award tonight, named after one of the great visionaries of the modern conservative movement in America. We sure could use Jack Kemp right now. Sadly, he is not here, but his ideas and the principles behind them are. And they are useful to us as we confront the great economic challenges and opportunities our nation currently faces.”
Anyone who wishes fully to understand the direction in which the GOP, both in its Congressional and presidential wings, appears headed will find in Kemp the necessary secret decoder ring. Only by understanding Kemp can one understand the emerging political present.
There soon could come another signal as to Speaker Ryan’s commitment to bring America back to prosperity and to carry forward his mentor Kemp’s free market agenda. The Brady-Cornyn Centennial Monetary Commission passed the House Financial Services Committee shortly before the August recess. It is poised to be brought up for a vote in the full House.
Monetary integrity was a key component of Kemp’s agenda. Kemp himself was a champion of the gold standard. He introduced the Gold Standard Act of 1984, co-sponsored by such other notables as Reps. Newt Gingrich, Jim Weber, and Connie Mack. The monetary policy component of supply-side economics by then had been delegated by President Reagan to Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, who handled it, successfully but by proxy.
The Commission is a key vehicle to restoring the most severely eroded part of the supply-side foundation laid by Kemp: good money. The Brady-Cornyn Commission by no means is a “Gold Commission.” It meticulously is neutral. The Commission’s charter gives Kemp’s gold standard equal dignity, on a level playing field, with rival monetary regimes. No more, no less. The principle of high integrity money is core Kemp.
Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy’s bringing the Commission legislation to the House floor would be another powerful sign that they are determined to effect a transformation of the House, America and the world. Paul Ryan thereby would provide yet more evidence of his commitment to becoming the worthy successor to his mentor Jack Kemp… the bleeding-heart conservative who changed America.
Originally posted on Forbes.