Paul Ryan: The Silent Speaker

Paul D. Ryan was one of the few reassuring touchstones for traditional Republicans, assuring them that the GOP hadn’t completely imploded. As a result, many of the pieces written about Ryan’s decision not to run for reelection in 2018 conflate his exit with the end of a Republican Party once characterized by people like Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. As the party ambles through the Donald Trump wilderness, its experienced navigators continue to fall away, most notably in sight of an unfavorable wave election. Pew Research Center notes that about 38 Republican House Members will not seek reelection–a near record high. Add to that list, Paul D. Ryan whose announced departure from the House of Representatives has inspired numerous articles about his legacy.

Poring over the pieces recounting his triumphs and failings, I have found the most mystifying articles those castigating the Speaker for not “speaking out” more strongly against President Donald Trump. I truly struggle to understand this critique, if it is, in fact, made in good faith.

I think it is important to note that these articles come from a liberal perspective (there may be conservative writers criticizing Ryan on similar grounds, but I have not seen them yet). This observation matters for two reasons: first, liberals tend to overestimate the power of protesting.

For example, Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic:

“Ryan blinked at confronting the president’s appeals to white racial resentments. Pressed for reaction to comments like Trump’s reported description of African nations as ‘shithole’ countries, Ryan managed to mumble the bare minimum of plausible criticism: ‘The first thing that came to my mind was very unfortunate, unhelpful.’ For most people genuinely distressed by Trump’s remarks, ‘unfortunate’ and ‘unhelpful’ were probably not the first words that came to mind; ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’ were.”

What exactly Brownstein believes a more forceful condemnation would have done escapes me. Donald Trump would not reflect on those comments and apologize. In fact, when Ryan said that Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel were an example of textbook racism, nothing changed. Of course, a decent person does not wear the label “racist” as a “badge of honor,” but I suspect that Brownstein would not characterize the President as a decent person. Who would?

On the other hand, what we do know is that President Trump works with people who “say nice things” about him. So, besides obliterate any possibility that Ryan could achieve his own legislative ends, those policies once associated with Republicans, what would harsher criticism have accomplished?

This, of course, is the point, and is the second reason why this particular criticism comes from the left: Liberals want a crippled GOP. A crippled GOP can’t pass tax cuts, or curtail government spending. A crippled GOP can’t reform entitlements, and it cannot do so in Ryan’s image if Ryan is feuding with a mercurial president who has no grand vision. In other words, goading Ryan and other traditional Republicans to follow the Jeff Flake model is a surefire way to ensure that no part of a conservative agenda is served. In the face of criticism Trump doesn’t change. He tweets. The offending politician may lose his or her job, and the GOP distills, becoming even more Trumpian–even more difficult to defend.

Furthermore, Paul Ryan is not a commentator. His role in the political process is to compromise with people with whom he disagrees to win legislative victories for the people who elected him. Ryan worked with President Barack Obama and with the House Freedom Caucus to accomplish as much as he could, a task that required him to speak strategically, not emotionally. Not symbolically. Perhaps in a new role he will have the freedom to speak for himself and to solely bear the responsibility of what he says. Perhaps he will choose, still, to refrain. Either way, he hadn’t that freedom before.

As for the articles suggesting that the Trumpian changes in the GOP are forcing out thoughtful conservatives like Ryan, there can be no doubt.

Prager and the Wolf

Part of what is so disheartening about President Donald Trump leading the Republican Party is discovering that thoughtful people–perhaps even people who you admire–will ignore, excuse, or even endorse Trump’s worst aspects. The kinds of people who saw profound meaning in Barack Obama’s annoying idiosyncrasies (omitting the words “our Creator,” when quoting the Declaration of Independence, for example) appear curiously unable to connect the dots on President Trump’s most troubling behaviors.

Conservative commentator, Dennis Prager, is one such person who I once very much admired. He does not know whether President Trump holds racist views in his heart that inform his policy decisions. Neither do I. Nor would Mr. Prager or I look to the mainstream American left for any elucidation on the issue. But the question is serious enough that Prager writes a piece arguing that the evidence against Mr. Trump is specious.

Here’s why Prager is wrong:

In the first place, Prager argues that the left has lost credibility on using the word “racist,” writing:

“The left labels anyone who opposes race-based quotas, or all-black college dorms, or the Black Lives Matter movement ‘racist.’”

Therefore, he argues, because liberals call so many innocuous things racist, they threaten to embolden “real” racism.

This is mostly true.

I think of the braindead attacks on Senator John McCain, calling him a racist, for referring to then-Senator Barack Obama as “that one,” when distinguishing between their voting records. I think of the many attacks calling President George W. Bush a racist despite the diversity of his cabinet, his electoral successes among Latinos, and his tireless work improving conditions in many African nations–improvements that are recognized across the political spectrum.

But Prager’s argument has two sides: while liberals may overcharge racism, conservatives underestimate it with the same zeal.  A Pew Research Study released last year expresses that very point. It finds that Democrats believe that not enough attention is paid to “real” instances of racism, while Republicans argue that too much attention is paid to “fake” racism. Both can be true: Democrats may pay too much attention to “microaggressions,” while Republicans prefer to ignore racial disparities in police shootings and incarceration.

But all this really means is that the right has lost just as much credibility on the issue of racism as the left.

Prager writes:

“On race the Left has cried wolf so often that if real wolves ever show up, few will believe it.”

And, so here we are: The Left is calling Mr. Trump a wolf, and Mr. Prager suspects that they might be seeing a giraffe.

The event in question finds President Trump in negotiations about DACA recipients and the future of a diversity lottery immigration program. The bipartisan negotiation would have ended the diversity lottery, in exchange for allowing the people who used that program to live legally in the United States (some, for decades) to join the class of DACA recipients and earn the chance to be granted permanent status. Upon learning that some of the people who benefited from the diversity lottery were from Haiti and Nigeria, President Trump asked why the U.S. should allow those people from “shit hole” countries to stay. He reportedly followed up by asserting that we needed more people from countries like Norway.

If whatever subtlety that exists eludes you, as it has Mr. Prager, what the President reportedly said is that if these people were from European countries–regardless of their value to the United States–they should be allowed to be incorporated into the DACA program. Otherwise, they should be sent home at government expense because of where they came from, not because of who they are and what they have contributed.

This sounds like racism to me, but not to Prager who defends Trump’s assertion by tying an imaginary “moral state of an immigrant’s country” to the likelihood that immigrants from those countries would use American welfare benefits.  (Remember, Mr. Trump did not say that the United States needed fewer immigrants who would use welfare benefits– that would have been more tenable.) As it were, none of Prager’s other arguments have anything to do with Trump’s statement, in fact, as nimbly as he claims not to know what Trump actually said, he more boldly asserts to know what Trump meant.

The point still remains, that Prager appears to suffer from the same affliction that the Pew study finds among conservatives more generally. It is true: if this were the only insensitive thing that Mr. Trump said, then one could plausibly deny that Trump is a racist. Just as sharp teeth, alone, do not a wolf make.  

But if only Mr. Prager would touch the pelt of the man who lied about knowing who David Duke was; if he would let the teeth of the man who precluded blacks from living in his developments pierce his fingertips; if Prager would listen to the howl of the beast who said that a Republican judge could not do his job professionally because he is of Mexican descent; study the scat of this animal that peddled a lie about Barack Obama’s birthplace. If only Prager would enter his picture into the Google Arts and Culture app, he would see that Mr. Trump keeps coming back–wolf.

Right Noise ShortCut [Bipartisan Support for Sexual Assault]

Have both political parties made a Faustian bargain that threatens sexual assault victims? So far, it appears so.

Credits:

Music: “She Gave You Everything” by ABSRDST; “1969” by Matte Black; “Ignorance is Bliss” by MindsEye and Dr. Rinkel

Right Noise [Political Cliches]

Do you hate political cliches with a passion? Me too. Here are some of the cliches that drive me crazy.

 

Credits:

  • Music: “From Then to Now” by Cutside; “Old Ways” by Josh Armistead; “Motet for Soprano and Orchestra Larghetto” by Advent Chamber Orchestra; “The Forlorn” by Starseed

Political Math

Imagine, if you will, a Venn Diagram in which the left circle (A) represents virtuous Americans who possess strong leadership skills, intelligence, amiability, and the ability to comprehend and solve complex problems. Let the right circle (B) represent Americans willing to have their reputations muddled, their words distorted, and their personal failings broadcast and analyzed by strangers ad nauseum. From the circles’ overlap (AᑎB) we choose our party nominees and eventually, our president.

 

Americans universally agree that media sensationalism and emphasis on scandal scares people in Circle A away from politics; leaving the American public to choose leaders from a throng of celebrities and empty narcissists. This election cycle, Republican candidates have weathered particularly biased media coverage and distortion. From detailed examinations of Marco and Jeannette Rubio’s moving violations, to Scott Walker’s educational credentials, to things Dr. Ben Carson did or didn’t say; media has provided the very cynical coverage that is so universally detested.

 

A prime example of this malfeasance regards coverage of Jeb Bush’s “stuff happens” remarks.

The Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts wrote one of the less braindead pieces about Bush’s comments, a piece that begins:

 

“And the Bush family’s War on English continues.”

 

Pitts goes on to compare Bush’s “callous” remarks to a “stink bomb in the flower bed.” He calls them “dismissive,” and lectures Bush–and conservatives–about why the comment is so reprehensible.

 

“‘Stuff happens’?…It doesn’t happen like this in Great Britain. It doesn’t happen like this in Brazil. It doesn’t happen like this in Israel…It would behoove us to try and figure out what other countries know that we do not.”

 

Take away the fact that none of these countries’ history, culture or philosophy match our own, and that most of us would rather live in an American ghetto than a Brazilian favela, and Pitts simply penned a typically thoughtless liberal response to gun violence. So what makes his article “less braindead?” He acknowledges that Bush’s “callous” comments were taken out of context.

 

The story of Bush’s “stuff happens” comment started with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza tweeting the two words out of context. News media pounced. President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton scolded Bush over this account of Bush’s “indifference” to gun violence. When asked about his statement, Bush doubled down. Republican and independent voters, donors, and Bush supporters, who hadn’t the time to research the full quote; or who were depressed by the barrage of negative press were likely to be less enthusiastic about Bush in light of this “news.” Maybe Jeb’s inarticulateness is as bad as his brother’s. That’s how the media tells the story, after all.

 

When conservatives hounded Lizza to provide the full quote [here], it became clear that the “stuff happens” story was just another smear job. The kind of smear job that keeps people in Circle A away from politics. In fact, buried in Pitts’ daft rant against comments that were never made, he acknowledges that “this is just a new round of the gaffe gotcha game where you strip clumsy language of inconvenient context so as to imply the candidate said or meant something he never said or meant. So let’s be fair: Bush was not being callous toward the Oregon tragedy…”

 

Pitts’ article could end there. Perhaps it could even call on the media to be more responsible–less nakedly partisan. Pitts could have reminded us, as The Federalist Staff did, that the media response to Bush’s statement is eerily dissimilar to their coverage of the same language coming from a certain Democrat politician.

 

“When bad stuff happens around the world, the first question is what is the United States going to do about it,” President Obama said about children being gassed in Syria.

 

“This stuff happens way too often,” President Obama said about the Charleston shooting.

 

To turn our ire to President Obama for saying “stuff happens” misses the point. Our disgust should be aimed squarely at a media that reduces a conversation about the limits of legislation to two words that do not characterize Bush’s remarks or his sentiment. Our disgust should be aimed at the fourth estate–the very institution that makes a liberal democracy possible.

 

It is no wonder 60% of Americans distrust the media. It is no wonder our politicians look more like Donald Trump and less like Adlai Stevenson. It’s no wonder AᑎB is so small. What more can we expect when this “stuff happens?”

Hillary Clinton Should Embrace Her Wrinkles

The buzz Democrats want surrounding Hillary Clinton’s campaign is that her ascension to the White House would represent a shattering of the “glass ceiling” that has held women back from enjoying the fullness of American life. In reality, though, Democrats champion equality the only way they know how: by advocating unfairness–special treatment. And as usual, the unintended consequences do more harm than good.

Actor, Cecily Strong, pleased liberal feminists at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner when she led the room of journalists to swear an oath:

“I solemnly swear… not to talk about Hillary’s appearance… because that is not journalism,” Strong said.

Ashley Alman of The Huffington Post cheered Strong, calling her statement “an important lesson,” and writing:

“The journalists of America have sworn to produce 2016 coverage free of sexism. Thanks, Cecily!”

This would be a welcome departure from “sexist” campaign coverage if journalists (themselves, liberal, by and large) showed a penchant for commenting on female candidates’ appearances and not men’s. The truth of the matter is, journalists wrote extensively about Mitt Romney’s stiffness and Rick Santorum’s sweater vests. Furthermore, liberals stood by quietly when Newsweek ran the Michele Bachmann “Crazy Eyes” cover and the cover photo of Sarah Palin in running shorts. In other words, at least when pertaining to Republicans, journalists have never hesitated reporting on candidates’ appearances–male or female. Why should Clinton be exempt? Besides, Hillary Clinton tends toward pant suits instead of running shorts and sweater vests, so there may be little to fear about journalists commenting on her clothes.

As it happens, though, the aspect of Clinton’s appearance with the most potential to inspire journalistic notice may come in the form of long hard lines and branching tributaries of wrinkles over her face and hands. Indeed, liberal feminists do not want journalists (or anyone) commenting on Clinton’s age even though (if elected) she would be “the second oldest person to take the presidential oath for the first time” at 69 years old. In fact, liberals are poised to pounce on Republicans who would tread into these waters.

James Oliphant, writes a piece in Reuters titled, “Republican rivals imply–but never say–she’s old.” In it, Oliphant quotes Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, who says that she has met with more than 5 Republican presidential candidates “and none of them has indicated they want to go after Clinton on issues involving her age.” Likewise conservative political action committees; American Crossroads, America Rising, and Citizens United; have said that they have no plans to attack Clinton’s age. This represents a contrast with Democrats’ ageist tactics deployed in 1980 against Ronald Reagan, in 1996 against Bob Dole, and in 2008 against John McCain.

But Reagan, Dole and McCain are men–the “stronger sex.” Feminists claim that they seek equal treatment of women, not special treatment. Equality dictates, then, that Hillary Clinton’s age and health should concern us every bit as much as the age and health of other presidential candidates of advanced years. Republicans know that they stand only to hurt themselves by commenting on Clinton’s age and appearance. However, why should the media refrain from doing so–especially since it has routinely commented on these characteristics in the past?

A simple Google search (“John McCain” + “old”) yields numerous examples of the media obsession over McCain’s age. In January 2007, CBS ran a story about McCain titled, “Too Old to Run?” The Wall Street Journal in April 2008 titled a story, “Is McCain Too Old?” Three days later, the Associated Press ran a story about Democrat Representative John Murtha saying that McCain was too old to be president. Pew Research Center in May 2008 reported on results of a poll titled “McCain’s Age Problem” that found more than a quarter of registered voters thought McCain was too old to be president. That number rose to 32% when voters learned his actual age. Two days later, NPR ran a story about McCain’s age followed by one about his health and the dangers of melanoma. On June 15th, 2008, CNN began a story titled “Age an Issue in the 2008 Campaign,” an article leading with  the question, “Is Sen. John McCain too old to be president?”

Indeed, refusing to comment on Clinton’s age, as Strong urges, would be a departure from political reporting. Refraining from commenting on Clinton’s age, simply because she is a woman would be more sexist than treating her like any other candidate. Moreover, in Clinton’s particular case, this abstention may prevent her from changing her image from an entitled, Machiavellian, politico to a warm, human being with a sense of humor.

To this point, Ronald Reagan’s quip about his age in a debate with Walter Mondale has become legendary in presidential debate history. John McCain, when endlessly asked about his age, replied:

“I’m older than dirt and have more scars than Frankenstein, but I’ve learned a few things along the way.”

After Barack Obama won reelection in 2012 largely on the issue of empathy, and with the Republican Party casting dynamic and empathetic candidates for the 2016 contest in droves, Hillary Clinton should welcome opportunities to appear a little self-deprecating and to highlight that she’s more than “likeable enough.” If the radical feminists get their way this election cycle, they will have coerced the media from doing its job as it has in the past. In effect, equality to the left means special treatment, even if that treatments hurts those it’s intended to help.