House Speaker Ryan offers no “alternative” except a worse one

By Office of Speaker Paul D. Ryan ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin did some major speaking out yesterday, saying he wants to offer “a complete alternative to the left’s agenda.” Exactly which “left” agenda he was referring to he didn’t say, but his initial remarks on this subject suggest that Ryan’s alternative would look pretty much like the political vision of the current leading Republican presidential candidates: raise the wages of the wealthy, oppress the poor, ruin what’s left of nature while waging even more war abroad. Ryan, however, is nicer about it, saying it is wrong to “demonize” in order to win elections. Was Speaker Ryan perhaps referring to the demagoguery of GOP presidential candidates?  Or did he mean  those demonizing lefties, as The Washington Times suggests?

Top of the list of Ryan’s conservative alternatives is to dismantle the ACA, which, if it does nothing else, ended the draconian insurance industry practice of not covering “pre-existing conditions” and has helped insure nearly 17 million more Americans.  Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is not fond of the ACA either, apparently because some in the insurance industry have decided that the ACA is not profitable enough. If the ACA has a flaw, it is that it places too much trust and power in the insurance corporations and the “free market” to set “affordable” prices.

The best alternative to the ACA is, of course, free national health insurance for all. But Ryan and Johnson and the Republican Party want to return us all to the generosity of unchecked “competition” which, as Sen. Johnson believes, “leads to lower prices and higher quality in every other field.” No wonder Republicans don’t want to raise the minimum wage: according to this alternative idea, the less you pay people (lowering the costs), the higher the quality of their work! Perhaps we should pay doctors a lot less and see what happens. And since Sen. Johnson has already turned down his own ACA-mandated health insurance, the quality of his legislative work might improve, according to his economic theory, if he lowered our costs and refused his salary as well.

But I digress. Back to Speaker Ryan’s vision for the nation. It seems the nation’s self-esteem needs to be improved. Ryan seeks a more “confident America” and a “bold, pro-growth agenda.” He wants to cut taxes and spending, of course, and, of course, he also wants a bigger, better military because “too many people think a warning from the United States is the hollow protest of a has-been.” I’m not sure where it’s written that the United States should be an issuer of warnings (“Do as we say, or we will bomb and invade you”) but that is apparently what a confident superpower is supposed to do.

And when it comes to sane, reasonable gun control, the best Speaker Ryan can offer us is to address our mental health system. But given the utter failure of our Congressional representatives to do a single thing to limit access to extremely dangerous, even military-style weapons, it does seem that the mental health of many of our representatives is pretty poor.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Editorial Page Editor David Haynes writes that Speaker Ryan is “a thoughtful politician and a reasonable man.” Well, yes, if we compare Ryan to, say, Trump or Cruz or Carson or Rubio, etc. But so far Ryan’s thoughts and reasoning have not evolved much beyond Tea Party rhetoric, though as House Speaker he may have to temper that potted tempest a bit. Ryan did take a libertarian swipe at “big business” but whether or not he intended to include defense contractors in this populist protest, he didn’t say.

But at this point Speaker Ryan’s alternative is none worth having.  A confident democracy leads by example and strives to honor and promote human rights by not adding to the sum of violence and injustice around the world. A genuine alternative to the political status quo would be a nation that always acts on democratic and humane, even broadly religious, principle– do unto others as you would have them do unto you, even if the others don’t agree. A confident democracy would not bow to demonizing fear, would not close its borders and up its military might and try to curtail social programs that help the needy and refuse to accept the science of ecology that tells us human-caused climate change is real and a real threat.

House Speaker Ryan is still placing Ayn Rand’s “morality of capitalism” above the morality of both democracy and the social teaching of his own Catholicism. From now on there may be a larger audience for Ryan’s speeches and legislative actions, but his dreary conservatism of pro-wealth/pro-war/pandering to white males will be championed by far more flamboyant and thoughtless speakers.


P.S.–  The Journal Sentinel approves of “Ryan the Wonk”, for Speaker Ryan is right, the Editorial Board says, about some things: “He’s right about the need to expand trade agreements. And he has a point about Obama’s handling of, in particular, Middle East policy. Yes, the president was handed a mess but Obama could have taken stronger action to prevent the humanitarian disaster in Syria.”

Ok, Ryan is right about trade because the JS says so (without reasons) and Ryan is right about foreign policy because Obama could have done something “stronger” to help Syrians. What, drop more bombs? It was Ryan the Wonk who joined the demonizing Republican call to “pause” the welcoming of Syrians fleeing the war.   Ryan’s conservative agenda merely conserves all the worst ideas of the Republican Party. For all his wonkish demeanor, House Speaker Ryan remains Ryan the Wrong.



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