Jonah Goldberg

Ryan's blueprint was denounced by liberals as too stingy and largely ignored by much of the Republican leadership, who were happy to just say "No" to Obama's plans without offering voters anything serious to say "Yes" to.

William Voegeli, a scholar of impeccable conservative credentials, has joined Ryan's battle in his book "Never Enough," a searing indictment of what he calls the Hundred Years' War between the party of more and the party of less. Voegeli argues that American voters (including most Republicans) will never fully eradicate the welfare state because they don't want to. And so conservatives should make peace with the idea that the federal government should help the truly needy, while rejecting both the sorts of middle- and upper-class entitlements that are bankrupting the country and the kind of government "dole" that breeds bad habits among the poor and able-bodied.

Purist libertarians who see merely a surrender to liberalism should at least acknowledge that liberals would denounce any suggestion of means testing America's safety net (as will many voters) as cruel cutbacks and a violation of FDR's "vision." Moreover, the current strategy hasn't worked. We've had a century of nearly uninterrupted growth in the welfare state, even under Ronald Reagan. That alone recommends a new strategy.

Consider Social Security. Liberals are absolutely committed to the idea that everybody should be in the same creaky retirement system. They insist that middle- and upper-class voters must be bribed to support the poor. So Warren Buffett gets a Social Security check to ensure everyone does. In fairness, some liberals also claim that a universal entitlement binds us together as a nation. The former claim is cynical, the latter poetic nonsense.

Governments do not generate wealth; they can merely distribute it. The challenge for both liberals and conservatives is simply to define how much distribution is "enough." What would an acceptable safety net look like? Who should be taken care of by taxpayers and for how long? Paul Ryan offered an answer to that question, and liberals scoffed because they reject the question. There's no such thing as enough, as far as they're concerned. That's what the Greeks thought.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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