House Speaker Paul Ryan did not have the courage to run for re-election in 2018. He knew that he was vulnerable to defeat in southeastern Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, and that his Republican Party was likely to lose control of the Capitol chamber that Ryan turned into a call center for Donald Trump’s failed presidency. So he quit the competition last April, making himself a footnote to the 2018 election campaign, which concluded with an overwhelming vote by the American people to transfer power to Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic caucus.
Unfortunately, Ryan’s ego is too fragile to allow him to simply slip away from power. So he has spent the past week on a “farewell tour” of media appearances — trying to put a positive spin on the story of his two decades in Congress.
It has, to say the least, been embarrassing.
“I think history’s going to be very good to this majority,” chirped Ryan, in a Bank of America-sponsored sit-down interview with The Washington Post.
The Republican National Committee made the mistake of circulating a video of Ryan ruminating on his “successes,” which inspired epic mockery on social media. Fewer than 200 people had retweeted the “history is going to be very good” remark in the day after it was posted. But more than 4,000 people commented on it, and the comments ran along the lines of “history will savage you” and “yeah, Russian history” and “Nyet!” and “Narrator: Paul Ryan did not realize it at the time, but this was the exact moment that every historian exclaimed in unison: ‘No we won’t. Not now, not ever.’”
Academics confirmed the critique. Princeton professor Kevin Kruse rejected Ryan’s assertion that the 115th Congress will be generously assessed by the arbiters of the American timeline with a blunt declaration: “No it won’t. – Historians.”
Members of Congress were equally unimpressed. California Democrat Jared Huffman answered Ryan with a question: “Alternative history?” Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chair Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, responded: “Alternative reality.”
Ryan’s delusions of adequacy will probably keep him on this publicity tour. But the response to his bragging about his catastrophic speakership confirms just how out of touch this political careerist has grown during his decades in Washington.
Instead of bragging about “accomplishments” that even his allies have trouble recognizing, Ryan should be apologizing to his hometown of Janesville.
Ryan likes to claim he represented Janesville. He even mused, after assuming his responsibilities as the 54th speaker of the House, about standing up for working families in the city, and in communities like it across the United States. “If there were ever a time for us to step up, this would be that time,” he chirped. “America does not feel strong anymore because the working people of America do not feel strong anymore. I’m talking about the people who mind the store and grow the food and walk the beat and pay the taxes and raise the family. They do not sit in this House. They do not have fancy titles. But they are the people who make this country work, and this House should work for them.”
But that was just talk.
Ryan never represented Janesville.
He represented Wall Street.
When the investment bankers and the corporate CEOs shouted “Jump!” the only question Ryan ever asked was “How high?”
In 2008, after his speculator pals crashed the global economy, Ryan raced to the House floor to round up Republican votes for the Wall Street bailout. Responsible conservatives recognized that the bailout as crony capitalism at its worst, but Ryan secured enough GOP votes to ensure that the millionaires and billionaires were taken care of.
Ryan was just as helpful when the speculators demanded more flexibility to shutter factories in the U.S. and move jobs overseas. He was an enthusiastic backer of free-trade pacts — including the extension of most-favored-nation trading status to China — that proved to be devastating for Janesville and the communities Ryan had promised to represent.
Back in 1998, when Ryan was first elected, Janesville was home to a sprawling General Motors plant that employed thousands of workers. Now, the plant is gone. So, too, is the Chrysler plant that employed thousands of workers in Kenosha when Ryan took office. And the Delco Electronics plant in Oak Creek. And too many other manufacturing facilities to count.
When the manufacturing communities of southeastern Wisconsin needed representation most, Ryan abandoned them. Then, when laid-off workers and their families cried out for help, Ryan proposed to gut their Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Why? Because he never served as “Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.”
He always served as “Paul Ryan, R-Wall Street.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org and @NicholsUprising.
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