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The Disparate Career of Paul Ryan

Editor’s Note: The following is Michael Huling’s weekly Highlight.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced that he will not be seeking re-election this November, meaning his time in Congress will come to an end in January of 2019.

Ryan has always been a bit of political prodigy, beginning his time in Congress in 1999 at only 28 years old. His political knowledge and likability assured him a successful career, but few could predict that he would be nominated for Vice President and become Speaker of the House before the age of 50. Given these feats, it’s even more shocking that his political career, at least for the time being, is over.

Ryan is a compelling figure, although he tends to downplay his ascension into political prominence. He was uninterested in taking the position of House Speaker, but after the horrendous failures of John Boehner to unite the Republican Party and forward its agenda, it was evident that a change needed to be made. Like many other conservatives, I was very excited to see Ryan take the party in a new direction, as his decency and intelligence strongly resemble the twin pillars of conservatism: virtue and reason.

When Ryan came into office, he had ambitious goals that included major entitlement reform, balanced budgets, repealing Obamacare, tax cuts across the board, and increased military spending. His goals should’ve been sacrosanct for the Republican Party, and on paper they were. During Ryan’s tenure as Speaker, Republicans have passed increased military spending and significant tax cuts. These accomplishments should be recognized and celebrated, just as their failures should be castigated. Massive deficit spending has remained the norm, and if anything gotten even worse. In the words of Paul Ryan, “Obamacare is the law of the land.” The tax code is still ridiculously complicated, which I can personally attest to as I’m writing this column as a break from finishing my own taxes. The most damaging failure of Republicans has been the inability and even refusal to reduce entitlement spending. In 2017, about half ($2 trillion) of the federal budget went to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In the next 10 years, the cost of these programs is projected to double, encompassing what was last year’s entire federal budget. For all of the cries of excessive military spending, the interest expense on the annual budget will be larger than total defense spending by 2023. All of this is unsustainable, and has been for years. The Republican capitulation on entitlement reform means that neither side has any intention to address the issue, passing on the responsibility to future generations.

The overwhelming tendency of Republicans to campaign as limited government constitutional conservatives, only to then govern as Democrat-lite, is clear as ever. The lies and failures of the party aren’t all Ryan’s fault of course, but rather than take a principled stand against destructively unsustainable governance, he became apart of the monster that he sought to destroy. This is the depressing nature of government. Men and women with the best intentions and highest ambitions get caught up in what is perhaps best known as “the swamp.” Undoubtedly, there are exceptions to this rule, but the broader truth of it is undeniable. There are fundamental issues with our current governmental structure, and pointing the finger at the other side continues to be the reliable alternative to solving these underlying problems.

I think Ryan is much more a product of the system than he is responsible for it. His era as House Speaker is more consequential than many people realize, but not in the way that Ryan had hoped it would be. I’ve criticized him incessantly over the past few years, and for good reason. In response to the recent omnibus spending bill, I wrote that Ryan had “the spine of a jellyfish.” I can go a bit overboard from time to time, but when you have high expectations for someone who fails to produce results, it leads to disappointment.

However, there’s something about Ryan that really shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s one of the few prominent politicians who isn’t a partisan hack, although he caters to the other side more than most conservatives would prefer. More importantly, Paul Ryan is an honorable and virtuous person by all accounts. His main reason for retiring is to spend more time with his family, wanting to be more than just a “weekend dad.” We live in a nation that has seemingly accepted egregious character from politicians as the norm, evidenced by the presidential candidates in our last election. We have also lost a huge part of what made America so great: the family. Divorce rates, single-parenthood, opioid abuse, and childhood suicide have increased dramatically in recent years, showing severe problems plaguing our nation that have far more to do with cultural vicissitudes than public policy.

While both sides will continue to attack Ryan, often fairly, his character truly is admirable. I’ll get a lot of heat for this next point, but I stand by it. In an era of extremely tribal politics, Paul Ryan’s decency and fervent support for family values are far more important to “Making America Great Again” than anything being propagated by President Trump.

The Fun Stuff:

Baseball season is in full swing, unlike Giancarlo Stanton’s bat which seemingly can’t locate a baseball. After launching two homers in his first game as a Yankee, his struggles have been brutal. Stanton has struck out five times in two games already, which is shocking for any player, especially one with a $325 million contract. I’m not one to jump to conclusions early in the season and I’m sure that he’ll turn it around, but the Yanks are killing me lately. They have a losing record through 13 games, and are coming off a series against the Red Sox in which they gave up 27 runs, losing two of the three games. It’s very early in the year like I said, but losing so badly to Boston is particularly painful.

Fortunately, the NBA playoffs begin tomorrow which provides an ample opportunity to diversify my sporting interests. For the sake of sports punditry, I predict the Cavs will beat the 76ers in the eastern finals, and the Rockets over the Warriors in the west. It’s going to be an interesting postseason, and I think whoever comes out of the western conference will win the finals pretty easily.

I wish I had more to say, but it has been a long week and I’m suffering from a bad case of writer’s block. I’ll (hopefully) have more intriguing things to say next week, but overpromising and underdelivering isn’t my style. Maybe that’s why I’m not a Republican.

Have a great weekend and God bless.

 

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