Wisconsin Rep. Ryan, 2012 vice presidential candidate, enjoyed better press than his 2008 counterpart. Described on the jacket as “the intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” he makes a more substantial literary debut than Sarah Palin in Going Rogue (2009), although that is a low bar.
Born in a hardworking Midwestern town where “everyone pitches in,” the author, who is the chairman of the House Budget Committee, studied economics in college, admiring conservative, free market thinkers like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand. He interned in Washington, D.C., impressed everyone and won a House seat in 1998 at the age of 28. Rising to chair the Budget Committee, Ryan’s advocacy of spending cuts and entitlement reform was frustrated by a leadership preoccupied, in Ryan’s opinion, with winning elections instead of upholding Republican principles taught by America’s Founding Fathers. Liberal only in his love of clichés, Ryan stresses that “irresponsible tax-and-spender” describes Democrats while admitting that “heartless penny-pincher” applies to some Republicans but not him. He proceeds to deliver perhaps too many examples of compassionate conservatism. Social Security, he maintains, is a noble program, but it is incompetently administered, underfunded and headed for bankruptcy. Ryan’s criticisms are convincing, but his remedy is a cryptic mélange of pay-as-you-go and privatization to avoid raising taxes (unthinkable) or cutting benefits (political suicide).
The jacket photograph of Ryan greeting voters, an American flag in the background next to a portrait of his smiling family, illustrates the book’s problem. Genuine attempts to educate readers are sabotaged by his inability, as an elected official, to upset supporters. The result reads like a typical campaign biography: stirring, patriotic, flattering to readers and warning of national crises whose solutions will antagonize only those who will never vote for him.