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Does Paul Ryan Want Your Children To Live In the 19th Century?

These days anyone who claims that the poor can succeed without the state’s guidance is supporting the ideology of Robber Barons.


“If you’re driving from the suburb to the sports arena downtown by these blighted neighborhoods, you can’t just say, ‘I’m paying my taxes, government’s got to fix that.’ You need to get involved,” Ryan said on the radio show. “You need to get involved yourself, whether through a good mentor program, or some religious charity, whatever it is to make a difference. And that’s how we help resuscitate our culture.”

Any decent person who reads this vulgarity has no choice but to come to one conclusion: Paul Ryan’s beliefs are “straight from the 1800s, an era of rapid industrialization, robber barons and unrest known as the Gilded Age.”

At least that’s how the Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney deciphers the words, “you need to get involved.” When I first saw the headline “Paul Ryan’s Approach To Poverty Is Straight Out Of The 19th Century” leading The Huffington Post site, I assumed I was in for another trolly post from a self-serving celebrity – say, Robert Reich — but amazingly, it’s written by a journalist. And the contents reflect the headline quite nicely.

In Delaney’s pseudo historical work, we are offered a patchwork of bogeymen–Newt Gingrich and Marvin Olasky both make appearances – and some risible attempts to connect Ryan’s innocuous statements about Clinton-era welfare policy and the zealous blustering of obscure 1800s “conservatives” – by which he means people who have nothing to do with conservatism.

First of all, these kinds of pieces — done with far more elan by the likes of Paul Krugman — mean we’re never going to be able to have a genuine debate about welfare policy in this country. There are, it seems, lots of people who genuinely believe that Paul Ryan and others like him have a burning desire to subjugate the poor and create a new Gilded Age.  What kind of discussion can we have with someone who compares Ryan to a robber baron because he proposes local governments experiment with their own poverty programs and construct their own budgets?

And not to take the piece too seriously, but Delaney does offer us an insight into progressive thinking: These days, anyone who claims that the poor can succeed without the state’s guidance and anyone who claims that ordinary citizens can pick up the slack left by costly and failed welfare programs, is doing the bidding of the plutocracy.  The state is in competition with local communities. It is in competition with religion. The headline of the piece might well have been, ‘If The Department of Health and Human Services isn’t helping you, no one really is. ’

But let’s concede, for a moment, that the late 19th century sucks – even if Arthur Delaney sounds like he’s a big fan of one of its most famous economic philosophers. What ideas should one avoid not to be slandered as a bootlicker of the plutocracy?  Well…

Volunteering:  This sort of behavior harkens back to a time of unrest known as the Gilded Age.

Meritocracy: When you tell your kids they can do anything in this country, you’re a liar. Indeed, Delaney mocks those who peddle the archaic notion “that a decent person can make it in America if he or she tries hard enough.”

Religion: Even when things are bleakest, do not succumb to God or surrender to the temptation of religious organizations. These people have ideas that are “extremely old-fashioned,” according to the author.

Community: Government is the only thing that we all belong to.

“Block granting”: I’ve read the piece numerous times, and I still can’t figure out what specific policy qualifies Ryan as 19th century thinker. Now, don’t get me wrong, other liberals have taken the time and effort to thoroughly critiqued Ryan’s past proposals. Here, though, “block granting,” which the author doesn’t seem to understand, is enough.

So no block granting, you modern-day Andrew Carnegie.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.