I had high hopes for Paul Ryan. I really did. I identified with him. We’re around the same age. Both raised Catholic. Both lost parents at a young age. That experience shaped our views of the world. I read his book and liked his message. It’s a positive conservative one, formed by years of working for Jack Kemp. Kemp was a brand of reasonable conservative that went extinct long ago-from the days of a functioning congress.
I didn’t vote for him when he ran with Mitt. I felt like the healthcare reform accomplished by 2012 wouldn’t have survived a one term Obama presidency. For me, that was the paramount issue in that cycle. But I liked the Romney/Ryan ticket. And though I’m satisfied with my 2012 decision, if they were around this cycle, Mitt and Paul would have had my vote. But they didn’t run. Others did. And we are where we are.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or at least away from political headlines, you may not have heard that Donald Trump recently claimed that the federal judge presiding over the law suit related to the now defunct Trump University was unfit to rule over the case, because he is of Latino descent.
That’s right. In 2016, he said that.
The current Republican nominee for the office of President of the United States made a statement that only white men are allowed to preside over court cases that involve him. That’s a big deal. And there’s quite a bit of fall out. And perhaps, for the first time—or the tenth—the man’s gone too far.
On Monday, Speaker Ryan spoke up in response, less than a week after having finally endorsed Mr. Trump as his chosen candidate.
“I disavow these comments — I regret those comments that he made, I think that they should be absolutely disavowed. It’s absolutely unacceptable.”
Yes Speaker Ryan.
“It’s sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
Yes Speaker Ryan.
“And I don’t believe our party can move forward with a legitimate claim to the responsibility of leading the American people of 2016 until our leaders abandon such archaic and divisive views. And that I, in all good conscience, cannot support a man who either holds those unacceptable values or lacks the conviction to refuse to falsely state them for personal gain.”
Except he didn’t say that last part.
The part after “textbook definition of a racist comment.” That part that sounded like conviction. Those were my words—the words I wish he said. Those words would have taken just a little more backbone. And just a little more self sacrifice. The type of thing that the Paul Ryan from his book would have said. The type of thing Jack Kemp would have said. He said something else though. Something that I think will be remembered as the single most descriptive statement for the dysfunction of the conservative political movement in 2016 America. Something that long after Paul Ryan is gone, people will remember about Paul Ryan.
“I believe that we have more common ground on the policy issues of the day and we have more likelihood of getting our policies enacted with him…And at the end of the day, this is about ideas.”
He’s a racist. I just said he was. My words. Not yours. But that’s not a big deal. Because he supports our policies. And our ideas.
Like I said. I had high hopes for Speaker Ryan.
The Speaker is right about one thing though.This is about ideas; one idea in particular. It’s arguably the most destructive idea our country has ever had. It’s an idea that we got so wrong when we started this thing that we’ve spent more blood and more treasure and more time trying to undo than any single issue our country has ever faced; more than government spending, more than terrorism, more than all of it.
And it’s still here. It’s long overdue existence is poisoning our conservative ideology. It’s the original sin of American racial inequality.
From the 3/5 Compromise written into our Constitution to the institution of slavery to the 600,000 American lives lost to end it. To the destruction of the southern economy that in some regions never returned.
To Jim Crow and segregation and an existing crippling gap in education, income and poverty prevalence that still exists today.
Our prisons are disproportionately filled with minority groups. Our destitute urban neighborhoods are trapped in a cycle of joblessness and recidivism. Ten generations have passed since the founding of our country. Two have grown to participate in society without legal racial segregation. We are not done with the fallout of our horrible idea. And the conservative movement has no claims to governing a population that is 40% not white until it stomps out the tolerance of racial inequality within their ranks.
It’s worse than Benghazi. It’s worse than an email scandal. It’s worse than the infidelity of a husband. It’s worse than any idea we’ve ever had. And it’s not close. So when someone pushes it aside as if it were an inconvenient but forgivable personal flaw, it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as wrong gets.
I don’t envy Speaker Ryan’s position. But I also won’t let him say he has no choice. Men of conviction always reserve the right to choose right. You just have to be willing to face the consequences. That’s the way conviction works. Do right no matter what the personal cost.
But I will give him one tip if he needs an out—and he appears to. It’s something that’s gotten lost in all of this Trump mania. It’s this. Most registered Republicans didn’t actually vote for Trump. That’s right.With over 28 million votes counted so far across all primaries, 54% of registered Republicans, the ones that took the time to go to the poles, or to caucus, voted against Trump. The political fall out doesn’t sound so damning. And begs the question for Speaker Ryan.
How little courage does it take to speak up against so troubling a movement in the face of such marginal consequences?
Speaker Ryan had a choice. And he chose the path of weakness, one I fear for his sake, will be how he’s remembered 100 years from now. He could have been remembered for so much more. This was a moment for a towering man of history. But we didn’t get that.
We got something else.