At a Wisconsin 4-H fair in 2012, Ryan encountered a Democrat who objected to what then was one of Ryan's signature rhetorical tropes his distinction between "makers" and "takers," the latter being persons who receive more in government spending than they pay in taxes. He had been struck by a report that 60 percent of Americans were already this was before Obamacare "net receivers." But his encounter at the fair reminded him that, for a while, he and many people he cared about had been takers, too.
The morning after a night "working the Quarter Pounder grill at McDonald's," Ryan, 16, found his father, who had been troubled by alcohol, dead in bed. Janesville's strong sinews of community sustained Ryan and his mother; so did Social Security survivor benefits. When GM's Janesville assembly plant closed, draining about $220 million of annual payroll from a town of 60,000, many relatives, friends and constituents needed the social safety net unemployment compensation, job training, etc.
"At the fair that day, I realized I'd been careless with my language," he writes. "The phrase gave insult where none was intended." He has changed his language and his mind somewhat but thinks the fundamental things still apply.
"Society," Ryan writes, "functions through institutions that operate in the space between the individual and the state," and "government exists to protect the space where all of these great things occur." Hence government has a "supporting role" as "the enabler of other institutions." Progressive government, however, works, sometimes inadvertently but often deliberately, to subordinate or supplant those institutions. This depletion of social capital is comprehensively injurious to the culture. And "all the tax cuts in the world don't matter much if you don't get the culture right."
Progressivism aims to place individuals in unmediated dependency on a government that can proclaim, as Barack Obama does: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen." Meaning, people depend on government for what they are and have.
Few of today's progressives are acquainted with their doctrine's intellectual pedigree or its consistent agenda. Progressivism's founders, however, considered it essential that the nation make progress, as they understood this, beyond the Founders' natural rights philosophy, which limits government by saying (in the Declaration of Independence) that it is "instituted" to "secure" these rights.
Hence Woodrow Wilson, a progressive who understood his doctrine's premises, urged Americans to "not repeat the [Declaration's] preface."
Progressivism preaches that rights do not preexist government, that they are dispensed and respected by government as it sees fit and to fit its purposes. Those purposes grow unconstrained by the Constitution that progressives construe as a "living" meaning infinitely elastic document.
Such Republicans are complicit with Obama, who demonstrated the selfdestructive nature of his now-evaporating presidency by his contemptuous, and contemptible, treatment of Ryan on April 13, 2011. After he loftily aspired to teach Washington civility, the White House invited Ryan to sit in the front row at a speech in which Obama gave an implacably hostile and mendacious depiction of Ryan's suggestions for entitlement reforms. Obama thereby repeated his tawdry performance in his 2010 State of the Union address, when, with Supreme Court justices in the front row of the House chamber, he castigated them for the Citizens United decision, which he misrepresented.
Both times, Obama's behavior bespoke the insecurity of someone who, surrounded by sycophants, shuns disputations with people who can reply. Ryan, however, has replied with a book that demonstrates Obama's wisdom in not arguing with a man who has a better mind and better manners.