The Speaker of the House, the Hon. Paul Ryan, recently expressed his hope for a “confident America.” He went on to say “we don’t shut people down. If someone has a bad idea, we tell them why our idea is better. We don’t insult them into agreeing with us.” He spoke of the superiority of persuasion to execration.
Close observers of the Ryan métier thought he was addressing Donald Trump. After listening to the campaigns in both parties, I have a different view. To my mind, Ryan was urging caution on everyone campaigning for the presidency this year. Certainly his remarks were aimed at his fellow Republicans including Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Yet they were also aimed at Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, both of whom whenever they take to the podium disparage Trump, Cruz, Kasich, and forget not the infamous one percent.
Ryan calls for reflection and restraint from both parties. Nonetheless he is in a tricky position. In a year of riotous politics, he has taken a chance of offending the rabble rousers by calling for a sense of restraint. He even has a Tea Partier challenging him back home.
Of course, he has no alternative given his lofty goals in the House of Representatives. As Speaker of the House he is responsible for getting budgets through that chamber that are acceptable to a majority while advancing his free market policies. He has never been known for heated rhetoric and he is not calling for it now. His role is unique in national politics. He wants to be effective, which seems to be what the majority of Americans call for but he is an advocate of free markets.
Ryan comes from the Jack Kemp corner of the Republican Party. Thus he would solve the problem of poverty and unemployment through pro-growth policies. He favors tax cuts as the route to economic growth. The War on Poverty has not worked. We have almost as many Americans living beneath the poverty level today as when LBJ began his War on Poverty more than five decades ago. All that has changed is that we have spent, by Ryan’s reckoning, $15 trillion in a futile effort to extinguish poverty. Ryan wants to try to end it with an alternative, economic growth. He will have to keep his Republicans united in the House to be successful.
He also wants to repeal Obamacare. This too will require a united Republicans Party. There are various approaches to repealing Obamacare, but his Republican colleagues are going to have to settle on one approach. Ryan has advanced the pieces. He must now bring the pieces together. Finally he says he wants to start paring back the federal debt that President Obama has doubled in his nearly eight years in office. That is going to be tricky too. Once again he will need party loyalty. No wonder he has been on a crusade to cool the rhetoric.
Moreover, as chairman of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer he is facing the possibility of the first contested convention in decades. He has to remain neutral. He is right to show no partiality. Whether Donald Trump arrives at the convention with the necessary number of delegates for victory or new candidates enter the race, Ryan has to be an honest broker. His role at the convention may be very large.
So now he has asked that the race for the presidency proceed with dignity. At the Republicans’ last debate on March 10 there were signs that it would proceed with dignity. Since then there has been a tabloid eruption and the battle of brides on Twitter. Now my guess is that things are going to settle down. The Republicans will act like statesmen. Bernie and Hillary will continue to bore. And Paul Ryan will play his role as leader in the House and an honest broker at the Republican convention. Nevertheless, the elections of 2016 will have some surprises.