Paul Ryan: a quiet social conservative?

The VP nominee focuses more on his economic policy than social issues
Paul Ryan: a quiet social conservative?

Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is certainly vocal on his economic policies, but many peg him among the most socially conservative in Congress.

While his counterparts might be more willing to put their social platforms on parade, Ryan tends to keep those topics closer to heart.

Cameras recently cornered Ryan on a plane, asking for a response to Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. Ryan mentioned that he thought Akin should drop out of the Missouri Senate race. Ryan concluded his comments by saying he is “proud of his pro-life record.”

UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said, “He is conservative in every sense of the word.”

Burden said Ryan’s choice not to put social issues in the forefront might be a greater product of his party. Burden explained GOP candidates emphasized these “hot button” topics more in the Bush era and through the early 2000s.

However, that is not the case anymore.

“I think they feel like they’ve tried that strategy out and it worked for them in some elections, in what we call base elections, turning out really hardcore conservatives,” Burden said. “And now they’ve moved back toward these kinds of technocratic budget issues, in part just because the economy has jumped to the front of the agenda and it’s hard to avoid.”

Burden said this kind of strategy could go either way for candidates like Ryan.

“On the other hand, you don’t want to offend the masked middle of the electorate, which is going to participate in November in a way it didn’t in the primaries,” Burden said. “And so you want to appear moderate and reasonable while also convincing the base that you’re one of them. It’s a tough road to walk. “

Paul Ryan on social issues

At Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, public policy director Nicole Safar groups Ryan with the most extreme conservative politicians when it comes to calls on women’s health and abortions.

“It’s a very extreme vision for women’s health in this country, and it certainly is not what women in their everyday lives are thinking that they need,” Nafar said.

Nafar said the Republican Party uses the issue as a “political football,” and she believes there is not a public health or economic reason to oppose family planning programs. She said bills that limit women’s health have increased tenfold, with more than 1,500 bills introduced last year on the subject.

“This is something like we haven’t seen before. It has really become a political wedge issue that the Republican party has gone back to time and time again over the past three or four years,” Nafar said.

Similar sentiments are echoed at Fair Wisconsin, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) advocacy and political organization. Executive director Katie Belanger is eager to spotlight what she said is Ryan’s record of having little regard for LGBT rights.

“He hasn’t really been out in front on these conservative issues. He hasn’t been the vocal champion of anti-LGBT causes. But he certainly, when he has the opportunity, does vote against equality,” Belanger said.

Belanger is disappointed with the way fiscal and social issues have seemed to merge for certain party politicians.

“Fiscal conservatism and social conservatism are in some ways very much tied together within the party system, but I think that they’re not mutually exclusive,” Belanger said. “We certainly work with some folks who are more on the fiscal conservative side who understand that equality is about treating people with dignity and respect, and they believe in that very much.”

With respect to his 14 years on the House floor, Ryan has been a consistent social conservative.

The pro-life politician co-sponsored bills to ban or at least cut taxpayer funding for family planning programs, especially those that perform abortions. Ryan has also voted a number of times to put tougher federal regulations on abortions.

Ryan voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a law that banned openly gay men and women from serving in the military. He also supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which clearly defines marriage as only between a man and a woman. Additionally, Ryan voted to make same-sex unions unconstitutional.

Some find this kind of record inexcusable. Others, like Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling, see it as exceptional and right in line with how all conservatives should be voting.

“We’re encouraged. We think he adds a nice element of conservative values to the GOP ticket,” Appling said.

Appling said her organization is always looking for the “full conservative package,” including those with pro-family and pro-life stances. She said Ryan certainly fits that criteria, and nothing in his voting record stands out as surprising or drastically outside of those values.

“He’s had lots of opportunities to take to go way off of the reservation on any issue, and he hasn’t really,” Appling said. “He’s been a pretty steady vote on our core issues of marriage, family, life, and liberty at any juncture.”

Appling believes GOP presidential pick Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are fairly in agreement on core issues, but they do have their differences when it comes to social views.

Specifically with respect to abortions, Appling explained Romney supports exceptions for abortions in certain cases, such as the life of the mother or incest. While Ryan’s record illustrates he doesn’t necessarily support that stance, Appling said Ryan is being fully supportive of the ticket, understanding that any movement in a more conservative direction is a victory.

“If we are ever able to have a law at the federal or state level that stopped all abortions with the exceptions of those that came about as a result of rape, incest, or the life of the mother, our organization would be very hard pressed not to support it,” Appling explained.

Appling adds that putting Ryan in a position to become vice president draws a clear line on the ballot for voters.

“Especially with the addition of Paul, we set up a true ideological difference that is very stark,” Appling said.

It’s that difference that groups like Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Fair Wisconsin are also striving to highlight as the election nears.

“We have a lot of work to do to make sure people really know who they’re voting for at the end of the day,” Belanger said.