Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has announced that he will not seek reelection to his seat this fall. It appears Ryan has bought into the narrative that the midterm elections this fall will be a wave for the Democrats, and he should get out while the getting is good. Never mind that, as Speaker, his caucus looks to him for leadership in both good times and bad. Now is a particularly bad time, and he’s hightailing it out of Washington.
Ryan, and just about everyone in Washington, is probably right about GOP prospects in the fall. Discontent with President Trump is high, to put it mildly, and the best way to get back at the president is for voters to go against the party he leads in the midterms. It remains to be seen how much damage the past decade’s gerrymandering by the Republicans will do, and there is a very real possibility that the Russians will have an October surprise, but the Democrats should win a majority in the House, sending Ryan into instant irrelevancy. So, he’s retiring, probably to a lucrative job in finance or lobbying. Certainly, he will find himself on enough boards of directors to continue to live in the upper class. Speaking of upper class, did you know that Paul Ryan amassed a fortune of between 4 and 7 million dollars while holding a full-time government job for the past 20 years? Huh. I wonder how he did that.
I, for one, won’t be sorry to see Paul Ryan go. There has been no bigger symbol of Republican hypocrisy and recalcitrance in the last decade than Paul Ryan. He has been portrayed as a serious policy wonk — pursuing policies that are core to conservatism. He attacked then-President Obama relentlessly for deficit spending, and proposed budgets that would slash entitlement spending to bring down the federal budget. It was all lies. The math in his budgets never added up. He and the GOP had to disguise the true intentions of their budgets, because their cuts to Medicare and Social Security were mean and untenable. And as far as his attacks on deficit spending are concerned, Republicans have never had credibility on the deficit. When a Democrat is president, budget deficits are bad. When a Republican is president, budget deficits are still bad, but they are no longer spoken of.
Ryan, however, went further. The tax cuts for the rich and corporations he shepherded through Congress last year are set to explode the deficit, to well over a trillion dollars a year. That’s ‘trillion’ with a ‘t.’ That’s, at minimum, $1,000,000,000,000.00. A year. It’s a number so large that it’s kind of beyond the reach of comprehension.
But I’ll always remember Ryan for his cruel efforts to take away my health insurance. I’ve been a freelance web developer for many years, now, and depend on the Affordable Care Act for my health insurance. It isn’t perfect. For one, I’m on an HMO, which is inferior, by far, to a PPO. For another, GOP fuckery with the law, both during negotiations and after the bill became law, has just about doubled my premiums in four years. That’s bad, but still represents about a 50% savings on the cheapest HMO I could find before the ACA came into effect.
Ryan never seemed to grasp, or care, about how much a burden health care costs are in this country. He worked hard to perpetuate a system whereby the fruits of a lifetime of work can be wiped out by serious illness. The transfer of wealth from people to health organizations is astronomical, and immoral. We are the richest country the world has ever seen, and we gathered this wealth in a time of unprecedented medical advancements. It is unconscionable that this path to better and longer lives is closed off to so many Americans. It is the duty of government to make something so beneficial to the public weal available to all. But this isn’t how Paul Ryan feels.
What seems to bother him is the idea of moochers living off of the hard work of the rich. He has an Ayn Randian outlook on the value of a person. That is, a person is measured by what they can produce and what they own, and there is no shared cost that will make society better. It’s dog-eat-dog, and his position is made all the easier to argue from the cloistered confines of upper class privilege. Ryan is the very personification of the heartless conservative, incapable of understanding the different, and lesser, conditions in which his fellow Americans live. Being in the position he was, in a place of power, he worked tirelessly to make those conditions harder.
His worst sin, however, was placing his and the party’s agenda over the fate of the country. Republican leadership has had three years now to denounce Donald Trump, but that have yet to do so. They, and particularly Ryan, decided that getting their legislation passed was more important than keeping Donald Trump out of the Oval Office, or holding him accountable once he was ensconced there. It really shouldn’t be any surprise that a political party focused on an ideology of selfishness would be blind to the consequences of short-term gain. Sure, they got their tax cuts, and a disturbing amount of judicial appointments, but that’s it. No entitlement cuts, no ACA repeal. And what has the country gotten to show for Ryan and the GOP’s embrace of Donald Trump? Oh, only a greater than zero chance that the republic will not survive his presidency.
Paul Ryan has been instrumental in the GOP’s transformation from responsible governing party to lunatic fringe. He has been an enabler — an actor without conscience — reaping the benefits of power while hurting the citizenry. His legacy is one of cowardice in the face of true challenges to the American way of life. It is a good thing that he is leaving Congress. It would have been better had he never been a politician at all.