One of the nagging liabilities facing Paul Ryan as he overhauls his public persona is the suspicion that he divides the world into “makers” and “takers.” The basis for this suspicion is that, on numerous occasions, Ryan has used these terms in public. Now Ryan writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that he will no longer use these terms.
For Ryan, the problem with “makers versus takers” is not that it reflected an aberrant philosophy. “If we keep on this way, we’ll reach a tipping point where there are too many people receiving government benefits and not enough people to pay for those benefits,” he confirms. Yet the word choice seems to rankle some. Ryan begins the column by describing how he felt bad when a Democrat confronted him over the phrase, in a way that made him feel bad: “they’re trying to make something of themselves. We shouldn’t disparage that.”
How nice! But to be totally clear about this, Ryan immediately proceeds to explain that it sounded like a personal disparagement. He was merely attempting to disparage the system that turns people into takers, not the takers themselves:
Of course, the phrase wasn’t just insensitive; it was also ineffective. The problem I was trying to describe wasn’t about our people; it’s a philosophy of government that erodes the American Idea.
The American Idea means passing Ryan’s budgets, which he name-checks. (Literally: Ryan gives his budget plans names, like “Roadmap” and “Path to Prosperity.”) The Ryan budgets and the philosophy that produced them have become a barrier to Ryan’s political viability. The question is whether Ryan has ditched the philosophy or just the way he sells it.