Jonathan Rauch, one of the keenest observers of American public life (and a contributing editor at The Atlantic), reminded a group of worried progressives recently that whenever extremist forces seem poised to take over the United States, moderate counterforces move in and save the day. He had no need to mention the key examples, because they are well-known: Ted Cruz ought to take note of what happened to Joe McCarthy, the John Birch Society, and, above all, the Moral Majority.
In recent days, Representative Paul Ryan has set out to develop an anti-poverty program—a compassionate libertarianism?—not something Ayn Rand would have approved of. While the details are still forthcoming, the Wisconsin Republican is emphasizing the need to enhance social mobility and to encourage volunteerism to help those in need. Perhaps this stems from little more than Ryan’s desire to differentiate himself from another Tea Party favorite, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has cornered the extreme libertarian position.
But it sure is winning him conservative kudos. Bill Bennett approves, according to the Washington Post: “You can’t be the governing party unless you offer people a way out of poverty.” Scott Winship, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, adds: “There’s definitely a feeling that conservatives need to get in this arena.” The very fact that some one like Ryan is willing to go beyond blunt individualism is a sign—however early and tentative—of some softening in the Republican Party's libertarian wing.