Every now and then a new politician bursts onto the scene and gets lots of people excited. Think Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio. Think Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan was a Jack Kemp protégé. He learned and believed the value of supply-side economics and what it meant to be a “bleeding heart conservative.” While there are legitimate reasons to challenge Kemp’s way of thinking, it is appropriate to believe that Jack Kemp wanted to improve the lives of more than the top one percent of the country that Republican establishment folks usually concern themselves with. (You can look at this blog’s October 13, 2015 post for more on Kemp.)
Ryan started out as a Kemp staffer and eventually became a congressman himself. He promoted a persona as a deep-thinking policy wonk determined to bring order to the federal budget.
Ryan, as Chairman of the House Budget Committee, worked to develop federal budgets that would balance in ten years or less. He included privatizing social security and tax cuts that would “raise all boats.” A close examination of Ryan’s budgets would show that he was also fond of using a “magic asterisk” as part of his budget balancing. The “magic asterisk” referred to sections of his budget plan where specifics about revenue generation or spending cuts could not be specified; so he included the equivalent of a TBD, to be determined. Sometimes the magic asterisks totaled about one Trillion dollars.
All of Ryan’s great work, of course, led to his selection as Mitt Romney’s 2012 running mate.
All of the good feelings about Ryan’s budget-making ability and his run for vice president then led to his selection as House Speaker last fall, succeeding the beleaguered John Boehner.
For the past several weeks Ryan has been attempting to prepare a 2017 federal budget, which should of course be easy for someone who is a budget-preparer par excellence. Except, though, that it has not been easy for the budget master. The budget is supposed to be ready by April 15 but that probably will not happen.
Ryan’s budget problem is that he now has the same monkey on his back that John Boehner had for the past several years, the monkey being the forty or so far right-wing Republicans who are members of the so-called Freedom Caucus – as in freedom to say anything you want and never have to worry about taking any responsible legislative action.
When Ryan was cajoled into taking the House speakership that no one else wanted, the Freedom Caucus gave him a pass for a short time, sort of like a “get-out-of-jail” card in the Monopoly board game. That allowed Boehner to do the heavy lifting of working out a bipartisan budget with President Obama. The problem is, the Freedom Caucus is not interested in living up to the 2017 plan that Congress approved just five months ago.
Somewhere in Florida right now John Boehner is sipping his wine and chuckling about how short a free period Ryan got before the Freedom Caucus turned on him.
So now master budget-maker Paul Ryan finds that all the happy talk, all the listening tours he took among his fellow Republican House members, all his civility and respect for others is leading him to give up on preparing a 2017 budget. What a surprise!
Ryan’s other job
Ryan appears to be a genuinely nice fellow. He toured some of the poorer sections of America to look for solutions to the problems of unemployment and poverty. He has promoted civility. He criticized Donald Trump for his remarks about Muslims and other things.
As Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is the most powerful Republican official in the United States, second in line for the presidency. The premier establishment Republican in the whole country! Okay, so that is not working out so well now.
As the Speaker of the House, Ryan will this year have the high privilege and distinct honor of presiding over the 2016 Republican National Convention this July in Cleveland. Bad timing.
Aside from scolding Trump on his behavior on several occasions, he has not imposed himself otherwise on the presidential election, except to announce that he would not accept a draft to be the party’s nominee (much like he declined to seek the speakership). Given his official role at the convention, Ryan says that must behave as the party’s Switzerland. It has been presumed that he was referring to Switzerland’s neutrality, like when Hitler ravaged Europe and Switzerland stood by and watched. But maybe he was referring to Swiss cheese (full of holes); Swiss chocolate (delicious, but only in moderation); or Swiss knives (which can be dangerous and could hurt someone).
I am tempted here to quote from Dante – “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” But I will not, because doesn’t nearly everyone in the United States think that this is the greatest, most civil, most uplifting, most decent presidential election campaign ever? So of course Ryan should be Switzerland.
If you were to make a list of things that Paul Ryan says he supports and place a similar list of Trump’s ranting next to it, you would pretty much have two direct opposites. Sort of like the lists the Buffalo News prints every January: IN, green ties, gourmet hot dogs; OUT, brown vests, barbecue wings, et cetera.
Despite having to scold Trump about his behavior; despite having radically different views of things like higher taxes on the rich and making changes to Social Security; despite the fact that Trump would turn what stands for conservative philosophy on its head, Paul Ryan says that he will support the presidential nominee of his party who presumably will be Donald Trump. Ryan must think that he needs to do so in order to preserve the Republican majority in the House and his job. Minority Leader would not be so much fun.
Who knows how this crazy political year will turn out? Gerrymandering has pretty much locked in a Republican majority until at least 2022. But many political wise men and women, including some leading Republicans, expect at the very least the Reps will lose a bunch of seats in the House with Trump at the head of the ticket.
Donald Trump a few weeks back said he had a nice conversation with Paul Ryan, but then Trump basically threatened Ryan if he did not get in line. Ryan seems to be responding to that. There is only one word to describe Paul Ryan’s willingness to support Donald Trump even though Trump would contradict and fight most things Ryan says he stands for. Paul Ryan is a hypocrite.