The latest entry in the season of political books took three authors to craft and begins with a foreword by yet a fourth. Yet Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders, by Republican Congressmen Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, and Kevin McCarthy, for the most part manages to avoid the perils of group authorship and to succeed in concisely conveying a sense of what these three men are up to.
The foreword by the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes calls Mr. Ryan "the most influential Republican thinker in Congress." Mr. Barnes predicts that Mr. Cantor "will be speaker or majority leader the next time Republicans control the House," while Mr. Ryan "will be in line to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee."
The book proceeds to a "roundtable discussion" among the three authors, with Mr. Ryan charging that the Democrats have a "hardcore-left agenda," of wanting "to transform this country into a cradle-to-grave European social welfare state and change the idea of America forever."
There are some useful facts here. Mr. McCarthy reports "the average salary in the Department of Education right down the street here is $103,000."
Mr. Ryan explains, "Members of Congress average twenty meetings a day, in fifteen-minute increments, almost exclusively with individuals or groups who want something."
The authors, who, after the initial roundtable, handle the rest of the book in three separate chunks each attributed to a single author, are not afraid to criticize their fellow Republicans. "We've seen Republicans who claim to believe in limited government spend the taxpayers' money like teenagers with their parents' credit card," Mr. Cantor writes. Republicans, he writes, "became what they had campaigned against: arrogant and out of touch."
At times, though, they blame Democrats when the fault belongs to both parties. Mr. Cantor writes, "Then the Democrats got into the auto business. Instead of allowing its union cronies and corporate CEOs to be held accountable for their poor decisions, they made the taxpayers accountable by buying Chrysler and General Motors." He leaves out that the CEOs of both Chrysler and General Motors lost their jobs, and that the government got into the auto business by putting $4 billion into Chrysler on January 2, 2009, $1.5 billion into Chrysler's financing arm on January 16, 2009, $13.4 billion into GM on December 31, 2008, and $5 billion into GMAC on December 29, 2008. All of that was during the Bush administration, before President Obama took office.
Mr. Cantor's section deals directly with his Jewish identity. "Growing up an American Jew in the South also taught me that America is about diversity," he writes. "Far from being a handicap, being a Republican Jew has shown me what is best in America. You can be a minority within a minority and still make your way in this country."
Mr. Cantor also writes movingly about the death of his cousin, Daniel, in a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv in 2006. In a terrific section, Mr. Cantor faults the Obama administration for what he calls a "shocking double standard" in the administration's reprimanding Israel for approving construction in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden but ignoring the fact that during the same visit by Mr. Biden, "Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party held a ceremony dedicating a public square in Ramallah to Dalal Mughrabi" a terrorist who had led an attack on a bus full of Israeli civilians, killing 38, including 13 children.
For the most part, though, the book leaves foreign policy and social issues aside and focuses on the case for turning back the growth of government. Core principles? Mr. Cantor writes: "Government doesn't create jobs and build wealth; entrepreneurs, risk takers, and private businesses do."
Mr. Ryan adds: "Growing dependence on government threatens to transform the fundamental character of our country away from a culture of initiative and independence."
On the detailed policy proposals, there's room to quibble. The authors tout their alternative to the Democratic stimulus plan. The alternative included "allowing small business to reduce its tax liability by 20 percent" and "a home-buyers credit of $7,500 for those buyers who can make a minimum down payment of 5 percent." Mr. Cantor explains it as an effort to be "realistic" and "work with the administration," and says they would have "much preferred" a bill that "lowered all tax rates."
Mr. Ryan's "Roadmap" budget plan would alter Medicare for future seniors to provide "more support for those with low incomes." He writes that under his Roadmap, "For both Social Security and Medicare…the wealthy will receive smaller benefit increases." He doesn't really get into the question of why the Republicans would want to join the Obama-led effort to balance the budget on the backs of the "wealthy."
Other proposals seem sensible, such as Mr. McCarthy's recommendation that the text of spending bills "be posted on the Internet at least a week before the vote."
Also somewhat surprising is that these politicians come off at times as such delicate flowers. Mr. Cantor sounds almost wounded when he recalls a meeting with President Obama: "After sparring for a bit on tax policy he stopped and said simply, 'Elections have consequences…and Eric, I won.' In other words: it's my way or the highway. Deal with it. The 'post-partisan' president sure had a big partisan streak." I wasn't in the meeting, but it hardly seems either partisan or inappropriate to observe that elections have consequences. They do.
Mr. Ryan complains that Democrats responded to his "Roadmap" by circulating "a so-called 'fact sheet' peppered liberally with fighting words like 'privatize.'" Mr. Ryan may choose to complain when Democrats accuse him of privatizing, but other politicians such as Margaret Thatcher and Stephen Goldsmith have been successful by communicating and demonstrating to the public the benefits of privatization rather than by shrinking from the term as if it were some kind of slur.
But at bottom this is a political book more than a policy book. These guys are, after all, politicians, a fact that occasionally shines through. Mr. McCarthy was elected to Congress in 2006 after the retirement of his "mentor and friend," Bill Thomas, for whom Mr. McCarthy had worked for 15 years starting at age 22. Mr. Thomas had served 28 years in Congress, which makes the complaint elsewhere in the book, directed at Democratic House committee chairs, that "the people who are making the nation's energy and tax policy for America's small business haven't been in the private sector for over three decades," ring a bit hollow.
The list of "members of the House Republican Young Guns" at the end of the book includes Lamar Smith, a congressman from Texas who is 62 years old and has been in Congress since 1987, and Buck McKeon, who is 72 and has been in Congress since 1993. If readers are left with the sense that the definition of "young guns" is a bit, well, liberally expansive, they will nevertheless come away from this book with a deeper understanding of three men who are already significant players in Washington and are likely to become even more so if their party retakes control of the House in November's election.