Paul Ryan and the “vast middle ground between the government and the individual”

by Ryan Streeter on October 25, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

I was too busy yesterday to get around to commenting on Paul Ryan’s excellent speech on upward mobility in Ohio. Yuval Levin has already said most of what I wanted to say by pointing out that Ryan’s speech…

…advances an argument that has been in the background of a lot of what conservatives have had to say in the age of Obama (and long before, of course), but has rarely been made explicit—a defense of civil society, of what Ryan calls that “vast middle ground between the government and the individual,” as the real source of America’s vitality, prosperity, and unity, and an explanation of how that crucial space has come under assault and why Mitt Romney is well suited to protecting it. A lot of the Romney agenda (and a lot of Ryan’s own work in recent years) has been focused on securing that space both from direct incursions by government itself and from being crushed by the weight of federal debt. Ryan lays out that case and explains why it matters most to the neediest and most vulnerable in our society—and why compassion for the poor should not be measured by government spending or the size of welfare rolls but by how well we enable the poor to rise and thrive.

As I’ve pointed out a number of times, Ryan does as good a job as anyone on the national stage making the connection between the wonkier aspects of his budget and the conditions for upward mobility for people starting at the bottom of life’s ladder (to borrow an expression from Mitch Daniels). He’s also been more vocal about the need to protect the realm between government and the individual than most other elected officials these days.

There is a direct connection between the encroachment of government, especially without regard tolow-income families, that creates a web that traps the very people it’s purportedly helping. A robust civil society and upward mobility go together.

Prior to Bush 2000, there was a decent body of work on this front, but conservatives let it lie and it has atrophied. Given the Obama left’s preference for a society more or less ruled by educated elites, it’s imperative conservatives recover this body of thought once again. I’m glad to see Ryan doing just that, even if in the last days of the election.