Angst over Ryan-Murray Agreement is Symptomatic of a Deeper Divide

The Ryan-Murray budget agreement has certainly provoked some sharp disagreement on the right flank of the conservative blogosphere. Actually, the agreement represents a true compromise in that each side achieved part of some of its aims, and both sides abandoned (if only temporarily) many of their desired outcomes.

In fact, the GOP “achievements” include: increased military spending, no new tax increases, removal of the possibility of a government shutdown (which events are always blamed on Republicans), some exceedingly modest budget reductions and no extension of unemployment benefits. What they failed to obtain was any entitlement reform, any tax reform and the complete preservation of the sequester cuts.

Murray and the Dems can crow primarily about the relaxation of the sequester cuts. Actually, I don’t see much else in the deal that they can brag about.  Moreover, getting a budget established and a shutdown off the table frees up the DC debate for conservatives to focus intensely on Obamacare – a winning strategy for the GOP in the 2014 midterm elections.

So why are Marco Rubio, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity livid with Ryan? Well, with the discomfort of quoting the NY Times: “[because the agreement is] a retreat from earlier spending cuts and a betrayal by senior Republicans. Some excoriated Mr. Ryan … for rolling back immediate spending cuts in exchange for promised savings that may never materialize.” The implication is that conservatives must trust Congress to maintain these levels of spending for the next ten years when there is no concrete mechanism to mandate the cuts. And as is well known, Congress is notoriously lacking in self-discipline.

But let’s be realistic. The GOP controls one half of one third of the federal government and as events of the last five years have shown, their ability to implement anything resembling a conservative agenda is virtually nil. The Dems have been weakened by the rollout of Obamacare. Very modest measures like this budget deal are now possible, but given the political configuration in Washington, it’s the best that conservatives can do.

Nonsense, replies the right wing. The agreement represents a co-opt with little payout and it reveals that we are not serious about combatting the progressive agenda, which is destroying America. It is a far better idea to advocate and forcefully fight for true conservative principles, which, even if we cannot enact them now, will convince the American people of the depth of their plight and eventually convert them to our cause.

I would like to postulate here that both arguments are correct. This is possible because they emanate from different sets of axioms. If one can establish which axiom set is valid, then one can ascertain which argument is more compelling.

Axiom Set 1. Yes, the progressive movement has made great strides over the last century toward “fundamentally transforming America”; and if they succeed, our Constitutional Republic, which has served as a beacon of liberty and prosperity for the world, will fall. But the American people, as polls repeatedly show, are still fundamentally conservative. We should not insult them by writing them off. All we need are the right leaders, articulating and implementing conservative policies, in order to right the ship. We need to convince the vast middle of the bankruptcy and danger of the Left’s program. We don’t do that by throwing bombs, but by deploying reasonable leaders, who follow sensible courses of action.

Axiom Set 2. In fact, the progressives have already pushed America past the tipping point. We are no longer a Constitutional Republic; rather at best a big government, collectivist, pacifist, statist, Euro-style social welfare state. Substantially more than 50% of the populace has been co-opted. We are literally at the incipient phase of a counter-revolution. Half-measures and phony deals do nothing to reverse the trajectory. We need to awaken the (counter) revolutionary spirit in the American people if there is to be any chance to halt the slide.

Those who believe in Axiom Set 1 will applaud the Ryan effort. On the other hand, those who subscribe to Axiom Set 2 will see it as a useless betrayal. What’s your axiom set?

This essay also appeared in The Intellectual Conservative