Paul Ryan’s Myth of Volunteerism

Paul Ryan’s Myth of Volunteerism

If Ryan thinks rescuing missing children is a good thing, why does he hate the entity that does it?


In his speech to the Values Voters Summit on Friday, Paul Ryan touted his running mate’s personal good works:

I’m not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life.

It wouldn’t hurt if voters knew more of those little things that reveal a man’s heart and his character. This is a guy who, at the height of a successful business, turned the entire company into a search-and-rescue operation the moment he heard that a colleague’s young daughter was missing.

He’s a man who could easily have contented himself with giving donations to needy causes, but everyone who knows him will tell you that Mitt has always given himself.

He’s one of those guys who doesn’t just exhort and oversee good works, but shows up and does the work.

Ryan repeats the assumption that Romney gives generously to charity. The Romneys say they do, but we have no actually evidence of it. In the one tax return they have released, almost all of their donations were to the Mormon church.

But the subtly idiotic part of Ryan’s comments is the beginning. Ryan implies that Romney will be a good president because he put a private company’s employees on a search-and-rescue mission.

That’s all well and good, but what does it demonstrate about Romney’s future policies as president? Ryan and Romney constantly argue that private enterprise is virtuous, while government should be as small as possible. But is search and rescue a private endeavor? What about the girls whose fathers do not work for Bain Capital? Do they not deserve to be rescued if they go missing?

Search and rescue is the epitome of a government function. It is the responsibility of police. If we eliminate government searches for missing persons, and hope that every child’s parent’s colleagues take over the responsibility, we will find far fewer children. If Romney wants to volunteer to help out on occasion, or make his employees help out, good for him. But if you want missing children in general to be found, you need precisely what Romney and Ryan propose to abolish: an adequately funded government.

Romney has not specifically called for eliminating funding for finding missing children. Romney and Ryan are campaigning on a platform of massive cuts to domestic discretionary spending, but they refuse to say which government agencies would come under the knife. It is quite likely that ones working on finding missing persons, such as the FBI, would be among them. Romney has also mocked President Obama for proposing aid to local governments that would prevent them from having to lay off police officers.

Ronald Reagan invented the invocation of volunteerism that Ryan is imitating. In 1982 Reagan praised Lenny Skutnik, a bystander who rescued a woman from a plane crash in the Potomac River. (Incidentally, Skutnik was an employee of the federal government—exactly the sort of bureaucrat Ryan wants to lay off.) As Michael Kinsley pointed out at the time, the Big Government approach to emergency rescue, which involved Park Service helicopters lifting people out of the water, saved more passengers than Skutnik did. Volunteerism is not a substitute for essential government services. It never has been and it never will be.

For more on Paul Ryan’s hypocritical politics, check out Lee Fang’s exclusive investigation. 

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