If you seek Paul Ryan's monument, all you need do is look around. There is the booming economy that continues to create jobs and increase take-home pay, a testament to the many years he spent advocating fundamental tax reform. Yet it's all been accomplished without sacrificing the great safety nets this country depends on, like Social Security and Medicare. Both of those have been saved from going bankrupt by his tireless efforts.
Plus there's his practical negotiating skills as speaker of the House. And if he'd had his way, the current unpleasantness with Communist China known as a trade war would have been avoided altogether.
Many a politician has been known to use the attractiveness of spending more time with wife and family at home as a cover when they're obliged to leave office. But there is no reason to doubt Paul Ryan's sincerity when he says he's retiring to do just that. At the same time, he points with deserved pride to his long political record: "I have given this job everything I have," he says. "We're going to have a great record to run on."
But whether the country or even his own party appreciates all Paul Ryan knows and has done won't be clear till the midterm election returns begin pouring in come November. He told the press that if he stayed on in Washington for still another term, his kids would grow up knowing him as only a "weekend dad."
"I can't let that happen," he says. For he knows what it's like to grow up missing a father--his own died when he was 16.
As frenetic as a big-time politician's life can be, he has always managed to appear cool, calm and collected--an example of grace under sustained pressure. To quote U.S. Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina, Speaker Ryan has been "a steady force in contrast to the president's more mercurial tone. That's needed." And how.
There is no understating how much his party has lost with Paul Ryan's all too sudden departure as speaker. To quote former Rep. Thomas Davis of Virginia, "This is the nightmare scenario. Everybody figured he'd just hang in there till after the election." But he didn't, and who can blame him for heading out now? He's already done more than enough for his party, not to mention his country. The peace of Janesville, Wis., must look awfully good after all the sound and fury of Washington, D.C.
Together with Mitt Romney, he made a kind of kangaroo ticket in the 2012 presidential election--one stronger in its hind legs. It was far from easy to succeed John Boehner as speaker when that worthy felt he had to step down after failing to work out a sound fiscal policy with the GOP's right-wingers. Somebody was needed to fill the gap between the party's ideologues and its moderates. And it was Paul Ryan who stepped forward to bring the GOP's right and left together.
"That's probably his greatest gift to us," noted Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. "His ability to bridge the vast divide." It was Paul Ryan who took on that seemingly impossible job, and succeeded to a degree no one might have imagined possible.
But for now the great scramble to find a successor to Paul Ryan is on, and it won't be pretty or quick. "I think everybody will start jockeying for position immediately," says Mark Meadows, the Republican representative from North Carolina who heads the conservative Freedom Caucus and must know what a wild scramble is about to break out in always restive Republican ranks. So let the games begin. The GOP has nothing to lose but its already frayed unity.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 04/18/2018
Print Headline: He made a difference; Paul Ryan leaves a big hole to fill