Paul Ryan wants to make American politics polite again. In a sunny speech before an audience of Capitol Hill interns, the Speaker of the House called on America’s leaders to hold themselves to “the highest standards of integrity and decency.”
“Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations,” Ryan said, in a tone fit for the climactic monologue of an Aaron Sorkin drama. “Instead of playing the identity politics of ‘our base’ and ‘their base,’ we unite people around ideas and principles.”
Ryan continued to throw subtextual side-eye at Trump, while occasionally doling some out to the Donald’s protesters, saying, “We don’t shut down on people — and we don’t shut people down … We don’t insult them into agreeing with us.”
Ryan argued that our caustic, fear-mongering politics has led the American people to “lose faith in government” – a rather odd phrase for a movement conservative (and Ayn Rand acolyte) to utter. “When people distrust politics, they come to distrust institutions. They lose faith in their government, and the future too,” he lamented.
In the speech’s most memorable passage, Ryan turned introspective, reflecting on his own complicity in the politics of name-calling and division:
I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong.
Some liberals were impressed with Ryan’s self-criticism.
Others were not.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggested the speech may be the first of Ryan’s 2020 presidential bid.
Regardless, early returns suggest that Ryan did not win the hearts and minds of the Trumpen proletariat.