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July 24, 2014 5:17 PM Ryan and Cranmer

By Ed Kilgore

I wasn’t going to write about this, but what the hell, it’s late afternoon and this is the 11th post, so….

It seems the emerging argument from Paul Ryan now that he’s got a “poverty plan” is that the budgets which made him famous and lifted him to a national ticket were, well, sort of an earlier stage of the evolution of his Big Thinking, or perhaps just a concession to the atavistic views of his colleagues. It helps, of course, that he’s about to roll off the Budget Committee chairmanship to assume the gavel at Ways & Means, and so won’t be responsible for future budget blueprints. But still: can he ever hope to transcend his signature budget views?

I’m reminded, believe it or not, of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, co-founder with Henry VIII of the Church of England and principal author of the immortal Book of Common Prayer.

Cranmer scholars universally hold (see this wonderful biography for much more) that he intended the first two editions of the Prayerbook (published in 1549 and 1552) to serve as transitional steps away from the medieval Catholic liturgy, to be ultimately succeeded by something along the lines of what John Calvin was instituting in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. But alas, when the short-lived evangelical Edward VI was succeeded by the Catholic Mary Tudor, the English Reformation was temporarily reversed, and Cranmer himself went to the stake. When Elizabeth I brought back Protestantism, she chose the 1552 Prayerbook as the basis for a permanent religious settlement, and banned any further innovation in any direction.

So Cranmer was immortally identified with a religious (and literary) masterpiece that he himself considered full of superstition and idolatry, soon to be consigned to the flames, to which he succumbed instead.

I do not regard Paul Ryan as being of remotely parallel importance or depth, obviously. But if he did indeed intend his budgets to represent Ryan 1.0, to be superseded by the full glory of his broader thinking on a reformed but compassionate federal government, he may have another “think” coming. Having been figuratively carried around a thousand rooms on the shoulders of thousands of conservative activists cheering him for his budgetary genius, it may not be so easy for him to now say “Never mind—that was so 2012.”

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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