Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House, always wanted to be remembered. He is a man of much ambition, with grand plans for reforming social programs such as Medicare or ostensibly caring about the national debt. He is also an acolyte of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism: the brave idea that human beings are not yet selfish enough. So it is fitting that he was undone by a buffoonish, carny-turned-president who has only cared about his own self-interest since being born with a silver spoon in his mouth.
Ryan, of course, will not be remembered. He will be relegated to the footnotes of the history books, alongside Copperheads and the Nye Committee, HUAC and the enablers of Father Coughlin. And though it may feel good to find amusement in Trump’s debasement of Ryan, this is a dangerous temptation. Ryan was not a good leader when he was first elected Speaker of the House, when he was the House Budget Chair or when he was Mitt Romney’s running mate. He has always been a liar, a hypocrite and a cruel, vindictive person who could tolerate the suffering of millions just so a few numbers and dollar signs looked better on a spreadsheet.
Like Hunter S. Thompson wrote of Richard Nixon, Ryan is a perfect foil for objective journalism. And though Trump’s rise should have put an end to the damned practice of distant, anti-subjective journalism, Washington’s press corps keeps on it. I have no doubt that, like so many others, Ryan is a responsible family man. I bet he is quite affable and personable when dining with ambitious, young reporters. To further quote Thompson, journalism has a “built-in blind spot” for men like Ryan, men who appear on paper to be decent but are not.
When Republicans retook the House in 2010, Ryan was at the helm of its “intellectual” offensive. Ryan unveiled his “Path to Prosperity,” an ambitious blueprint with a name out of Maoist China, to make America great again — or something. The plan was modeled after the same ideas Ryan had been pushing since 2008 (when it got a mere eight co-sponsors.) It would have turned Medicare into a voucher program, Medicaid into a block grant program and massively cut discretionary spending while giving tax cuts to the wealthy.
These were Ryan’s policy priorities, the things he wanted to come to pass for the country. Ryan was willing to replace their earned benefits of Medicare’s 44 million enrollees — paid for by the payroll taxes regressively levied most severely upon the working class — with coupons that would have been woefully inadequate. Ryan advocated for these dystopian measures because of his pious concern for the deficit.
Yet Ryan has always been a gigantic enabler of and contributor to the deficit. He voted for the Bush tax cuts, the Trump tax plan and the Iraq War — content to put them all on the country’s credit card. The Zadroga Act to provide healthcare for 9/11 first responders was too expensive, but a massive giveaway to folks who make their income from inheritance or manipulation of money, rather than the sweat of their brows, was swell. To call Paul Ryan a deficit hawk is like calling John Bolton a foreign policy dove.
Ryan’s ascension into power is most tragic, not because of him, but because of what it says about us. A fiscal conservative who came into Congress with a balanced budget will leave it with a $1 trillion deficit. A “compassionate” conservative who advocated the destruction of a 50-year-old social program is blithely indifferent to paramilitary police forces terrorizing an entire race of people on our soil. A decent family man who is a “but-for” cause of the presidency has brought unprecedented shame and dishonor to the United States.
Horwitz is a second-year law student from Houston. He is a senior columnist.