Magazine article The Progressive

Paul Ryan and the 'Soul of the Republican Party'

Magazine article The Progressive

Paul Ryan and the 'Soul of the Republican Party'

Article excerpt

House Speaker Paul Ryan is a servile political "eunuch" twisting himself to meet the capricious whims of Republican nominee Donald Trump, smirked Late Show host Stephen Colbert. Yet Ryan is "the most powerful Republican politician in America," according to MSNBC host Lawrence O'Donnell, a long-time observer of American politics.

So which is it? Actually, Ryan fits both descriptions. Shamelessly endorsing Trump despite the candidates repeated racist and inflammatory statements, Ryan wants to display just enough support for Trump to avoid alienating Republican voters.

No wonder Ryans classmates voted him both prom king and "biggest 'brown-noser' " in his senior year of high school.

Ryan, forty-six, understands the political benefits of sucking up. He is a clear favorite of the Koch brothers and other members of the Republican donor class. He holds enormous power as Speaker of the House. Most importantly, Ryan is the keeper of the flame for the Republican establishment. He defends his party's traditional values: free market capitalism, low taxes for the rich, the rollback of New Deal and Great Society programs including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, and repeated ideological attacks on progressives. ("Progressives deliver everything except progress," he said in his speech at the Republican National Convention.) He is a man on a mission, with his eye fixed on the Republican presidential nomination in 2020.

Ryan and Trump have been engaged in a delicate dance, reflected in their ostentatiously reluctant endorsements of one another. They need each other, and, at the same time, they represent opposite, warring elements in a fracturing Republican party.

Ryan embodies the abandonment of working-class voters which provoked the Trump revolt. He has witnessed the economic decline and social disintegration of the three key factory towns in his district in southeastern Wisconsin. From 2000 to 2012, Kenosha has seen 30 percent of its manufacturing jobs wiped out, Racine has lost 33 percent, and Janesville, 54 percent. Ryan responded passively to devastating job losses like 3,800 Delco jobs in Oak Creek which mostly wound up in low-wage Mexico, 850 Chrysler jobs shifted from Kenosha to Saltillo, Mexico, and the closing of Janesville's massive General Motors plant. All three towns have seen major increases in poverty, and Janesville in particular has been hit by increases in family violence and suicides.

"Ryan is out of touch with workers," says Todd Price, fifty-three, a Kenosha native and director of policy studies at National Louis University. "The guys I went to high school with can no longer find jobs at Chrysler, American Brass, Snap-On, and other places that have closed. But Ryan wears blinders, and he is remarkably confident about the doctrines of ['free-market' fundamentalists] Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman."

The problem for working-class voters extends way beyond southeastern Wisconsin. America has lost about a third of its manufacturing jobs since 2000 as some 56,000 factories have closed, and working-class communities have become increasingly fractured.

One grim indicator of community deterioration, especially in factory towns: the death rate among whites aged forty-five to fifty-four climbed 22 percent from 1999 to 2013. Alcoholism, opioid abuse, and suicide are among the key factors in an unexpected increase of nearly 500,000 deaths in this group, according to an eye-opening study by Angus Deaton and Anne Case. Deaton reflected on their findings: "These are the people who used to have good factory jobs with on-the-job training. These are the people who could build good lives for themselves and for their kids. And all of that has gone away. The factory's in Cambodia, the factory's in Vietnam, the factory's in China, wherever."

Recently, Ryan finally jettisoned his long-standing support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), falling back on citing technical flaws in the deal while fervently maintaining support for "free trade" in principle. …

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