Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?: Speaker Ryan's Hopeless Dream of GOP Solidarity

by Nomad

Newly-crowned Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan has his work cut out for him. The real question is how long the  ultra-conservative minority will give him before the daggers come out of their togas. 

A few days ago, Paul Ryan became the 62nd Speaker of the House of Representatives, following behind weepy John Boehner. The 45-year-old Wisconsin Republican Ryan seemed less than enthusiastic about taking the position and even laid down certain conditions before considering it.

If Ryan wasn't dancing a jig, then that's not much of a surprise. His predecessor was repeatedly left dangling in the wind by the fringe Tea Party who took every opportunity to undermine his authority and scuttle whatever hard-won legislative deal he arranged with the president.
Compromise was an anathema to the ultra-conservatives and that made any kind of deal, regardless of who gave up what and what was gained, utterly hopeless.

Nothing has changed on that front and Ryan is fooling himself if he thinks his charm will calm the roaring beast in the den. In the vote for the Speaker post, Ryan received 200 out of 247 votes, dissent coming mainly from the radical right wing subminority, the House Freedom Caucus.

The Spoilers of Ryan's Hope
Established in January, the nine founding members are:
The HFC's mission statement sounds lofty enough to please the most ultra of conservatives.
“The House Freedom Caucus gives a voice to countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. We support open, accountable and limited government, the Constitution and the rule of law, and policies that promote the liberty, safety and prosperity of all Americans.”
In fact, there's plenty of evidence to show who the HFC actually represents. By the way, there's a sly hint of where their support comes from: "prosperity of all Americans" can refer to "Americans for Prosperity" a right-wing political advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, the owners of Koch Industries.

According to a POLITICO analysis done in conjunction with the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics:
The analysis shows that caucus members had strong support from industries like banking and auto dealerships that traditionally support Republican candidates. But the figures also demonstrate the influence of outside groups that have emerged as important forces in the Republican Party, sometimes colliding with its leadership over conservative principles.
The analysis, based on a review of campaign and leadership PAC donations reported by each caucus member during his or her time in Congress, shows that the Club for Growth, the free-enterprise advocacy group that claims 100,000 members, has contributed $1.77 million, or about 1 percent of the more than $175 million the caucus members raised in total. The club was the No. 1 donor for 11 members — more members than any other benefactor.
The Club for Growth has aggressively opposed several moderate Republicans often to the consternation of GOP political leaders. The word "moderate" keeps changing its shade every time it is used. Today's raving right wingers can become tomorrow's middle of the road target of true conservative ire.

In addition, the analysis noted that the Wichita-based Koch Industries contributed close to $600,000 over time to members now aligned with the caucus.
No wonder the American voters believe Congress no longer represents them.

The choice of Ryan, which two years ago, might have been seen as a victory for all of the principles espoused in the HFC mission, We shall see how long they are satisfied with the new Speaker but the odds are Ryan will face the same sniping that Boehner received. What they really seem to want, say critics, is the right to rule without the corresponding accountability and responsibility for the consequences.
Sort of like the Koch brothers themselves.  

A Broken House
Outgoing Boehner, clearly clueless to the end, the House "the great embodiment of the American dream."
Whatever that means.
In fact, the House, under Boehner's leadership has been a Republican nightmare. If the House is s a symbol of anything is of the failure of government and of a system in disarray.
Given a chance to put the party's vision into concrete form, the GOP majority has squandered the opportunity over and over, with embarrassingly inept investigations, frivolous threats of impeachment and government shutdowns. 

And the result has been, predictably, public disgust (though the reasons may vary depending on which side of the political spectrum you favor. They may not know who to blame, but they know that Congress is in one sorry state.

An astounding 82% of the American public disapprove of the way Congress is handling its responsibility. At no time, since 1974 when Gallup began polling. have the American people had such a negative opinion of the legislative branch. 

Upon his acceptance, Speaker Ryan said bluntly:
"Let's be frank: The House is broken. We're not solving problems, we're adding to them. I am not interested in laying blame. We are not settling scores. We are wiping the slate clean.
"When we do not follow regular order when we rush to pass bills that a lot of us don't understand, we are not doing our job. Only a fully functioning House can fully represent the people. Opportunity for all, that is our motto."
If anybody knows about exploiting an opportunity, it's Paul Ryan.

The problem is that this dysfunction cannot be resolved without a complete overhaul of the party and, if necessary, splitting into two parts. That's just not something Ryan is bold enough to consider. 

The Dear Colleague Letter
Before picking up the hallowed gavel, he sent this email to House members. Some of the points are worth noting if only for their candor. 
(In any case, the letter may be good for a few laughs within six months time.)

Dear Colleague:

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about our country, and it’s clear to me that we’re in a very serious moment. Working families continue to fall behind, and they are losing faith in the American Idea: the belief that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can get ahead. At the same time, a weaker America has led to a more dangerous world. Our friends and rivals alike wonder whether we will pull ourselves out of this stupor.

To a House lost in its own reality, Ryan tries to give them the news. Congress is a mess and the Republicans ought to get with the program or risk losing its credibility.

Instead of rising to the occasion, Washington is falling short—including the House of Representatives. We are not solving the country’s problems; we are only adding to them. But now, we have an opportunity to turn the page, to start with a clean slate, and to rebuild what has been lost. We can make the House a more open and inclusive body— one where every member can contribute to the legislative process. We can rally House Republicans around a bold agenda that will tackle the country’s problems head on. And we can show the country what a commonsense conservative agenda looks like.

The problem is, unbeknownst to Ryan, the country already knows all too well what the conservative agenda looks like. It looks like defending Bush tax cuts, attempting to defund Planned Parenthood or drafting a constitutional amendment defining marriage. It looks like Benghazi and lawsuits against the president. It looks like petty squabbles and pointless filibusters. It looks like gerrymandering to stay in power, Voter ID laws, and talk of making Christianity the national religion.
The public has been shown the conservative agenda and has declared it any but "commonsense."

That’s why I’m actually excited for this moment. I’ve spoken with many of you over the past few days, and I can sense the hunger in our conference to get to work. I know many of you want to show the country how to fix our tax code, how to rebuild our military, how to strengthen the safety net, and how to lift people out of poverty. I know you’re willing to work hard and get it done, and I think this moment is ripe for real reform.

Earlier this year, the non-partisan Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law released a scorecard on how Congress is dealing with poverty. Things like cutting the federal food stamp program, blocking an increase of the minimum wage, efforts to gut Obamacare, and the House Republican budget, in general, were called, "a disaster for poor people."

As VP Joe Biden asked Romney's running mate, Ryan, during the vice presidential debates in 2012, 
“Stop talking about how you care about people. Show me something. Show me a policy. Show me a policy where you take responsibility."
Now it's the put-up or shut-up moment and Ryan is still blathering the same nonsense about how the conservatives care.

That’s because, whatever our differences, we’re all conservatives. We were elected to defend the constitution. We share the same principles. We all believe America is the land of opportunity—the place where you should be able to go as far as your talents and hard work will take you. We all believe in empowering every person to realize his or her potential. And we have the know-how to apply these principles to the problems of today. I never thought I’d be speaker.

Quite true, Ryan thought he would be vice-president. Romney had promised him.

But I pledged to you that if I could be a unifying figure, then I would serve—I would go all in. After talking with so many of you, and hearing your words of encouragement, I believe we are ready to move forward as a one, united team. And I am ready and eager to be our speaker. This is just the beginning of our work. There is a long road ahead. So let’s get started.

Sincerely, Paul Ryan

Let's see how this lead balloon soars. By the end of the letter, it all begins to sound like a bad imitation of Jack Nicolson's last scene in "Mars Attacks."

The Man with the Real Power
Power is the ability to bring about change.  That doesn't come by cheerleading or wishful thinking. It doesn't come, as Ryan will soon learn, by emails filled the same false narratives and phony air-kissing.  
The truth is that Republican party- at least in its present state- is unable to govern and until the Tea Party drives the GOP completely off the rails or is forced to form its own party, Ryan is going to be spending nights crying in his beer.
As Eugene Robinson, writing in the Washington Post, noted back in March:
There is no plan. Republican majorities in both the House and Senate are so out of control that they’ve managed a feat once thought impossible: They make the Democratic Party look like a model of unity and discipline.
Because the Republican party is for the time being absolutely incapable of pulling itself together, it is exceedingly fragile. A baby fart could collapse the entire facade.
Need proof? You're on.

During the last debate, the GOP candidate reversed evolution and ended up turning the event into something organized by the World Wrestling Federation. And after thoroughly humiliating themselves live before the entire nation, they refused to take responsibility and blamed the mainstream media for asking the wrong questions.
That's about as much accountability you can expect from the Republican party. Indeed, every moment of calm in Congress is just one that comes before a storm.

There's one supreme irony of this situation. The true power holder in this chaos isn't Ryan or the Republican Party.
It's the president!
That's right.
That Kenyan socialist holds all the cards.

With one short public statement, President Obama could scuttle whatever hope Speaker Ryan has of pulling Congress together.
If the president were as calculating and devilish as he has so often been painted by the Far Right, all he would have to do is to announce that Paul Ryan is a person he endorses and a man he can work with. A photo with his arm around Ryan, a broad smile and that's it. 

After that, the HFC would undoubtedly do everything it could to destroy Ryan's efforts and make a fool of Speaker Ryan and a mockery of his ambition. 

That's a crying shame. Ask John Boehner.