Paul Ryan took the road less traveled—and it turned out to be a dark alley full of rats and robbers.
All Paul Ryan wanted was to work on budgets. He wanted to use his special talents to run the House Budget Committee, to try to reduce the deficit and income taxes, to fight poverty and unemployment. He didn’t want to be out front, or in charge, or even all that well-known.
Alas, in 2012, Mitt Romney called and asked him to run with him as his Vice-President. Ryan, by all reports, thought deeply about it, considered the possible consequences for his family, prayed for guidance, and took the plunge. And one fine day, on the deck of the USS Wisconsin, he accepted Romney’s offer and spent the next few months trying to defeat the Obama-Biden regime.
As we all know, that didn’t go well.
After the election, he went back to the House, to watch his budgets fall prey to the mindless obstructionism of Harry Reid in the Senate. Then 2014 swept the Democrats out of both houses, and Ryan had his first clear shot at pushing a budget through. But it was mangled by the disturbingly cozy trio of Boehner, McConnell, and Obama.
And then something unexpected happened.
Against all odds, as the Tea Party and the House Freedom Caucus were preparing to engineer a coup, Boehner himself volunteered to resign, having accomplished the most important thing in his life—getting the Pope to come speak to Congress. He had a hand-picked successor (Kevin McCarthy, who would have been a clone of Boehner), but McCarthy abruptly declined the position at the very meeting in which the Republican caucus was supposed to accept him.
Conservatives, who had dreamed of ousting Boehner for years, had apparently never given a minute’s thought to a replacement. Jason Chaffetz and Daniel Webster ran halfhearted I-guess-I-could-do-it campaigns while other Republicans nagged Paul Ryan to take the position. At first, he said no. No, but thanks. No, he didn’t want it. No, no way.
And then he said yes.
It is highly unlikely he could ever have imagined what that would mean.
A few weeks after he took the position, he found out that, hey, just so you know, well, not sure how to tell you this, but you know that job you didn’t want in the first place? It comes with another thankless job—you have to preside over the Convention. Ryan wasn’t thrilled, but this was in 2015—long before anyone had any idea what a horrifying assignment that would become.
So, now, as Ryan struggles to keep a straight face pretending not to be nauseated by the very presence of Donald Trump, he heads toward a convention that could blow up in his face—and some say even drag him into the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether to be the candidate in a contested convention in which no one knows what might happen.
This was not what he signed up for.
And to make this summer even more of a blinding headache for the Speaker, the aging hippies in the House have decided that this is their great moment of relevance, in which they will absorb all the attention of the media and the world by bravely sitting on the House floor whining about the unfairness of having a Constitution that protects both an individual right to bear arms and the right to due process. Overnight. With delivered food, air conditioning, and no deprivation of any kind. The most inconvenient thing about the House Democrats’ marathon was that the business of the House had to be conducted while they were on the floor acting like toddlers.
The comparisons to the Civil Rights movement are laughable. There is nothing “brave” about opposing guns, if you are a Democrat. In fact, it’s the least the Party expects of you. Although they could not stop congratulating themselves for being so “historical”, “extraordinary”, and “courageous”, this event was, in fact, as Ryan called it “a publicity stunt”. This happy obstructionism was nothing like the sit-ins for Civil Rights.
For one thing, no one threatened to set police dogs on members of Congress. No sheriff (or even the Sergeant-at-Arms) was going to spray them with fire-hoses, or order police to wade into the (comfortably) seated members of Congress and, if necessary, crack their heads open with billy clubs. The carpeted floor of Congress is not a cement sidewalk. The comfy theater seats in the House are not the steel and plastic barstools of a Greensboro lunch counter. No one walked up to members of Congress wrapped in their newly-bought blankets and spit in their faces and called them names.
They were not sacrificing their safety and risking their freedom to assert rights that have been blatantly violated by the government that promised to protect them. They were, instead, loudly and childishly objecting to the failure of their own colleagues to gut a Constitutional Amendment and Constitutional rights that they find inconvenient to their agenda.
Most of all, they were not (as they claimed) “speaking truth to power.” They, in fact, are power—and they were speaking Constitutional gibberish.
Ryan managed to conduct some House business around them, speaking loudly enough (while never shouting or losing his temper) to be heard over the chants of “No Bill, No Break!” The House passed a Zika bill, and then adjourned until after the July fourth holiday.
Although the attention to the Democrats’ stunt was submerged the very next day by the media tsunami resulting from the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union, they are planning to pick it up again as soon as the break they weren’t taking is over. It is unlikely that the House will get anything done before convention season kicks in. And, while it will be miserable for Ryan to be chairing the (potentially) chaotic convention, at least he will be glad he does not have to be present at the Democratic convention, at which you can be sure the specter of “gun violence” will be a major theme.
Pity Paul Ryan. All he ever wanted to do was write budgets.
photo credit: Paul Ryan via photopin (license); Gage Skidmore