Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s debut speech was very well-received by Democrats, which will not do much to assuage conservative critics.
Granted, an incoming Speaker generally hits bipartisan notes, and the other party always reads too much into such rhetorical flourishes, so they can complain later that the Speaker wasn’t as bipartisan as he promised.
“It sounded an awful lot like a Democrat speaking,” proclaimed Democratic Caucus vice-chairman Joseph Crowley (D-NY), as quoted by The Hill. “I think he’s a good person and a decent guy. That came through, I think, today.”
But Crowley continued, “The message is good. It’s really a question of how that’s followed through and how that actually happens, and whether it actually happens.” He waited about ten seconds to lay down the “disappointed Democrat who expected so much more bipartisanship” marker.
Congressional Black Caucus chair G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) described Ryan’s speech as “aspirational,” saying the new Speaker “seemed to suggest that he wants to work in a bipartisan way, and I believe if he delivers on that commitment we’re going to have a better Congress and a better America.”
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) praised Ryan for adopting the Democrat “frame of reference.”
“The frame of reference that he had there this morning says that we have people in this nation who are struggling economically,” said DeLauro. “Their jobs don’t pay them enough, [and] wages have been stagnant for 30 years. He talked about the many and not the few. And so far, the few have benefited so mightily and the many have not. My hope is that this reflects a change in public policy.”
Funny, it seems like only yesterday Democrats were singing the praises of Barack Obama’s miraculous economic recovery in unison. Maybe DeLauro forgot who the President is, and how much he’s unilaterally taken “public policy” from the hands of Congress.
Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) hailed Ryan for delivering “an appropriate message at an appropriate time,” and hoped he’d get to work whipping Republican conservatives into line right away.
“He’s got a group in his conference that has a hard time with our Constitution, the concept of divided government, of checks and balances and the need for us to cooperate with each other to get things done. And how he handles that faction is going to determine whether he has a successful Speakership or not,” said Kind, apparently suffering from the same selective amnesia as Rosa DeLauro. When he recovers, and remembers just who in Washington has spent the last seven years trashing the Constitution and the separation of powers, he’s going to be so embarrassed!
These Democrats’ list of demands for what the Republican Speaker must do are so insistent, it’s almost enough to make you forget the American people trashed the Democrat Party in an epic landslide election in 2014. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership did forget that, so here we are, watching a new Speaker take up the gavel.
The Paul Ryan speech that set so many Democrat hearts aflutter is below:
The passage that has liberals so excited was Ryan’s praise of bipartisanship as a quasi-religious duty, coupled with the extremely progressive notion that the House of Representatives represents “the boundless opportunity to do good.”
A lot is on our shoulders. So if you ever pray, pray for each other – Republicans for Democrats, Democrats for Republicans. And I don’t mean pray for a conversion. Pray for a deeper understanding, because—when you’re up here, you see it so clearly – wherever you come from, whatever you believe, we are all in the same boat.
I never thought I’d be the speaker. But early in my life, I wanted to serve in the House. I thought the place was exhilarating, because here, you could make a difference. If you had a good idea and worked hard, you could make it happen. You could improve people’s lives. To me, the House represented the best of America: the boundless opportunity to do good.
But let’s be frank: The House is broken. We are not solving problems. We are adding to them. And I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean. Neither the members nor the people are satisfied with how things are going.
He coupled this aspirational declaration with a promise to reform the internal workings of the GOP’s majority in the House.
We need to make some changes, starting with how the House does business.
We need to let every member contribute—not once they have earned their stripes, but right now. I come at this job as a two-time committee chair. The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. If you know the issue, you should write the bill. Open up the process. Let people participate. And they might change their tune. A neglected minority will gum up the works. A respected minority will work in good faith. Instead of trying to stop the majority, they might try to become the majority.
Democrats, of course, have been saying the Republican House is broken for years, because it refuses to become a rubber-stamp for Barack Obama’s policies.
More importantly, they hear Ryan agreeing with them, and with their notion of government as the primary engine of progress in America, the “boundless opportunity to do good.” They’ve very happy to hear Ryan concede they’ve been a “neglected minority” since 2010, but will now be respected and given more of a hand in legislation.
Let us devoutly hope Paul Ryan is not foolish enough to believe the Democrats will feel any remotely comparable urge to respect the rights of the conservative minority if they accept his invitation and become the House majority again someday.
It was only later in his speech that Ryan introduced conservative themes. For instance, he eventually laid out a vision of a functional House that was a bit different from the submissive Obama-rubber-stamp that Democrats want:
What a relief to [the American people] it would be if we finally got our act together, what a weight off their shoulders. How reassuring it would be if we actually fixed the tax code, put patients in charge of their health care, grew our economy, strengthened our military, lifted people out of poverty, and paid down the debt. At this point, nothing could be more inspiring than a job well done. Nothing could stir the heart more than real, concrete results.
Either Ryan’s Democrat admirers missed details like “putting patients in charge of their health care,” or they think he doesn’t really mean it. Ryan’s encomium to American independence is also very different from the Democrat vision of a massive all-powerful State distributing resources and imposing social justice:
We show by our work that free people can govern themselves. They can solve their own problems. They can make their own decisions. They can deliberate, collaborate, and get the job done. We show self-government is not only more efficient and more effective; it is more fulfilling. In fact, we show it is that struggle, that hard work, the very achievement itself that makes us free.
There’s nothing Democratic or progressive at all about that passage.
The question is which parts of that speech Ryan intended to be taken most seriously. The partisan ideological divide in this country is real, and serious, not a childish squabble. A glance at those Democrat responses should make it clear to Ryan that his legacy will either be an establishment commitment to bipartisan comity and ‘doing good,’ or a conservative ideal of independent Americans getting things done for themselves in a free-market economy.