It’s customary at landmark political moments, such as the retirement of a House speaker, for journalists to write overly lyrical articles situating current events in the sweep of history. I’ve probably written a few myself. Many such tributes will be written about Paul Ryan, who announced Wednesday morning that he will not seek re-election in November.
I don’t think he deserves it.
Paul Ryan amassed political power through simple deception. In 2009, he cast himself as a Paul Revere-like figure, called upon by duty to alert the public that Democratic efforts to address a global economic crisis were actually making the crisis worse. Liberal profligacy, he warned, would bankrupt America, and only by electing Republicans—the green eyeshade party—could the country stave off even greater disaster.
The truth, as he well knew, was precisely the opposite. Democrats were governing carefully through a calamity, and Ryan was the uncompromising ideologue, hell bent on slashing taxes and services for the poor, Great Recession or no. But his story stuck, and with the help of a gullible press corps, he rode the myth of his own studiousness all the way to the speakership. When an ignorant, reckless, criminal autocrat commandeered Ryan’s party, Ryan decided that kleptocracy, racism, national and global instability, and the normalization of sexual assault by powerful men, were prices the rest of us ought to bear so that his dream of unifying Republican government and gutting the safety net didn’t have to die.
That, too, stuck. And in the complete absence of economic crisis, Ryan has jacked federal deficits back up to a trillion dollars, as if to mock his early enablers for their credulousness. He gave plutocrats a multi-trillion dollar tax cut, and will close out his days in high office asking sick children and the elderly to pay for it. He’s quitting just as the consequences of his actions come to a head, and if the House of Representatives, or the fabric of democracy, can’t withstand the choices he made, that’s our problem.
There isn’t really much else to say about his public service. Goodbye Paul Ryan. Enjoy the Jayer-Gilles Echezeaux Grand Cru.