Paul Ryan - A Case Study in the Opposite of Principled Conservatism
We never knew Paul Ryan. Even the abject, ill-advised, and downright stupid gestures - the 2012 photo shoot, doing the Dab on stage in front of cameras - did nothing to shed any light on who he really was. As he leaves the stage, this opaque aspect of his public service allows for many readings. Most of them will be wrong, but a growing amount of reporting is piercing the outer facade.
The clear focus of hindsight and history will reveal Paul Ryan.
A political fraud
Ryan has been consistently and intentionally dishonest with the express goal of deceiving others, whether voters, supporters, and the media. While being a political fraud is not a crime, I would assert the degree of Ryan's extreme deception does warrant the harshest possible personal judgment. Even with careful reading of the past decade in positions of real power, I remain curious what his goals have been in this behavior.
A policy hypocrite
Ryan emerged as a reputed intellectual, a legislator who was analytical, and used the power of logic and intelligence to advance an agenda that conservatives (not Republicans, as that is not the same thing) would appreciate and applaud. Yet, the record shows just how untrue and undeserved that reputation has always been. The direct line of rhetorical hypocrisy is so easy to see even the youngest of the Parkland teenagers could write a paper on it in an afternoon. In short, Ryan does not stand for any of these goals.
- Small government
- Personal liberty and responsibility
- Conservative stewardship
- The interests of the people you were elected to serve
A corrupt member of the elite
Ryan was the primary architect in what will go down as one of the worst acts of Congress, a notorious example of legislative malfeasance in the modern era of late-empire U.S. politics. The tax bill he drove through Congress was terrible policy, deeply unpopular, and a nearly unprecedented undermining of decades of fiscal policies. Now, an argument exists that changing course is a good idea, but the bill had not even a hint of such aspiration. Instead, Ryan orchestrated a pure money grab for the wealthiest individuals and corporations in the country. On top of it all, he was blatantly hypocritical in his rhetoric, both in terms of policy objectives and process.
A leader who disrespects the U.S. Constitution and the American Republic
Actual conservatives and the media looked to the Speaker in general and Ryan in particular over the past two years as someone who had the appetite, stature, and leverage to be a moderating force on unrestrained plutocrats who have taken over the Executive Branch. Without active checks and balances from Congress, their impulses continue to point toward full-on fascist government. In this environment, the Speaker of the House literally has one job, which is to make sure Congress seeks to uphold both the Constitution and the clear interests of the American Republic and its citizens. Over this entire period, Ryan has done nothing consistent with that imperative. Even the smallest steps of empty rhetoric were too much to ask. Instead, he gave free rein to Trump enablers in the House and offered no evidence the GOP had any interests beyond those of the White House.
Render on to Caesar
While I am not a political conservative, I appreciate real, authentic conservatism and very much agree with some conservative principles - notably related to personal responsibility, stewardship and conservation, and governmental restraint. If Ryan’s tenure in leadership had stood for any of those principles, I would acknowledge the facts and commend him for that, if nothing else. Once again, though, Ryan has advanced actions that serve the opposite of these principles in all cases.
While living in DC, a neighbor of mine who worked for a GOP Congressman would occasionally espouse the party line about Paul Ryan, which often meant asserting that he was the smartest person in Congress. At its best, such a statement was laughable at all times. What it signals about the supremely cynical culture on Capitol Hill tells us all we need to know about Paul Ryan. He desperately wanted to be thought of in certain laudatory ways. Yet, not once in his career at the pinnacle of American politics did he take the simplest of actions to warrant any such characterization. If someone can share even one example, I will amend this piece to acknowledge said action.
So, Paul Ryan rides into the sunset before the voters get a chance to chase him away. He will take his campaign war chest with him, freshly burnished with the $500,000 check he received the day after the tax bill was signed. He does not need to work ever again, but no doubt his need to be thought highly of will compel him to carry on being exactly who he has always been.