Paul Ryan – The Statesman He Could Have Been

Written by Jill Chapin. Posted in Opinion, Politics

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Published on April 13, 2018 with No Comments

Speaker Paul Ryan. Photo via Wikipedia.

By Jill Chapin

April 13, 2018

As third in the line of presidential succession, Speaker Paul Ryan certainly had the gravitas of power through his position, yet he was often too reluctant to forcefully use it to counter the mean-spirited invective of those around him. If he had spoken up, fought back, stood down – whatever direction he could have taken – he would have led himself to a nobler place.

Instead, he focused all his energy on legislative achievements as he is a self-admitted policy wonk. In a moment of candor, he might likely acknowledge that he kept his mouth shut on the foul noise emanating around him so that he could focus on getting the tax bill passed, which was his signature piece of legislation.

But in his fierce determination to achieve this goal, he demurred from taking a stand on things far more important – our constitution, our rule of law, our basic sense of decency, and our democratic values.

One might draw a parallel between Ryan’s non-responsive ways of responding to the most brutal of remarks we hear almost daily, with the words of Martin Niemoller who was an outspoken foe of Hitler. His words landed him in a concentration camp, but he said them anyway:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Since Ryan never passionately defended those whom our president and others attacked, could it be that he realized his constituents in Wisconsin heard his deafening silence with disapproval, and this is why he decided to retire? As House Speaker, maybe his voters felt that his very title not only implies that he has a voice; it obligates him to use it. And he should have done so.

Yet after the Orlando massacre, Ryan barely addressed the attack on the LGBTQ community by a Muslim, who pledged allegiance to ISIS. Although he delivered the obligatory thoughts and prayers, the most he could offer – just 48 hours later in the House chamber – was a moment of silence.

After the white nationalists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, complete with Nazi salutes and slogans chanting “Sieg hiel” and “blood and soil” – our president said there were good and bad people on both sides. As appalling as that comment was, all that Ryan could muster was the tepid response that Trump messed up.

The latest sounds of silence from our Speaker occurred when Newt Gingrich went after Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller. Mr. Mueller had once pursued a career in medicine when one of his friends died in Viet Nam, so he joined the military there where he received the Bronze Star, two Commendation Medals, the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry as an officer in the Marine Corps. He then returned home to continue his education in law, eventually serving as the Director of the FBI. But apparently Mr. Mueller’s stellar past seemed unscrupulous enough for Mr. Gingrich to compare him to Stalin. And apparently it wasn’t good enough for Mr. Ryan to defend either.

Our speaker has been described as a good man, a family man, a churchgoer, a decent guy. That is why his refusal to counter outrageous comments from the truly outrageous is so confounding.

And that is why the following words may end up defining Paul Ryan’s real legacy: Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

Jill Chapin

Jill Chapin has been a guest writer and columnist in several Los Angeles area papers for over fifteen years. She has written a bilingual parenting book titled, "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" and a children's book entitled, "My Magic Bubble."

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