Paul Ryan 2016: If He Intends to Fight Poverty as President, He Should Start Now

If you've found yourself missing big blue eyes, bulging biceps, fiscal conservativism and no-exceptions pro-life politics which show an absolute disregard for women's health and safety, don't worry — Paul Ryan, the Ryan Gosling of the GOP, isn't going anywhere. Anywhere, that is, except the White House in 2016 ... possibly.

"Losing is part of politics and can often prepare the way for the greatest victories," expounded Ryan at the Jack Kemp Foundation Leadership Awards Dinner on Tuesday. "It is the courage to continue that counts." He also mentioned GOP darling, and other rumored 2016 GOP candidate, Marco Rubio.

Is Ryan-Rubio a viable potential Republican ticket in 2016? Some speculate it may be, especially given Ryan's new focus on appealing to the 47%. At the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, conservative writer Kyle Wingfield points out that in the aftermath of the 2012 election, both Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan have begun to address issues like social inequality more directly than either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama ever did in the months leading up to November 6, 2012. (Jill Stein and other third party candidates did address poverty, quite directly.)

Can Paul Ryan, mansplainer, really turn his image around to become the president for the poor?

He certainly seems to be trying. Ryan explained, "As it stands, our party excels at representing the aspirations of our nation’s risk-takers. We celebrate that part of the American Dream that involves finding your passion and making a living from it."

"But there is another part of the American creed: When our neighbors are struggling, we look out for one another. We do that best through our families and communities — and our party must stand for making them stronger. We have a compassionate vision based on ideas that work — but sometimes we don’t do a good job of laying out that vision. We need to do better."

Ryan charges social programs instituted since the 1960s as fostering a "culture of dependency" which was, in part, rectified by welfare reform in the '90s. The war on poverty begun by Lyndon Johnson in 1964 has failed. The forward is through an approach which "promotes strong families, secure livelihoods, and an equal chance for every American to fulfill their highest aspirations for themselves and their children."

While Ryan is correct in noting that the Clinton administration's welfare reforms led to lower welfare enrollment, the problem of fighting poverty is likely more complex than simple reform. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, note that it is difficult to determine what role welfare reform actually played in reducing policy: "At a minimum, it is hard to evaluate the effects of policy and economic changes when they all occur essentially simultaneously. Between 1995 and 2000, we implemented TANF, raised the minimum wage, implemented major EITC expansions, and at the same time the economy went into one of its strongest periods of growth. We lack the tools to fully untangle these very closely-timed events that occurred everywhere almost simultaneously."

Paul Ryan has voted against raising the minimum wage before. The Romney-Ryan budget would have cut TANF by 17%. And his proposed budget in the House would have reduced earned income tax credits for families with over three children. While he is absolutely correct to address federal inefficiencies in social welfare programs, he must acknowledge that the issue is complex and thoroughly evaluate what made the '90s Clinton reforms successful.

2016 is a long way off, but it's not too soon for Ryan to start doing his research, and even potentially amending his old stances. If he is serious about ending poverty, it's time for him to start looking not only at those who have done the hard work of personally fighting poverty, as he puts it, but also those who have done the hard work of researching and legislating to fight it.

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Sam Meier

Samantha Meier serves as the Identities editor at PolicyMic, where she writes on activism, gender, and new media. Sam was profiled in the New York Times for co-founding Sex Week at Harvard, and is currently working on a book about women and underground comix. Originally from Flagstaff, Arizona, she currently lives in New York.

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