As the November elections approach and Republican candidates sense the possibility of regaining the majority in Congress, discourse has taken an extreme tone.
It is normal for parties to polarize as candidates seek to define what it is they stand for and how they differ from their opponents in policy. However, as a result of President Obama’s progressive policies, and Republican efforts that have frustrated their enactment into law, the tone building up to the elections has been particularly bitter. Adding to the mix is the Tea Party’s populist challenge to the Republican establishment. As we hurdle towards the November finish line, the American public is left with a political landscape littered with candidates on both sides touting particularly zealous rhetoric.
Meet Paul Ryan. A Republican congressman representing Wisconsin’s 1st district, Ryan is an increasingly rare breed of legislator – one that has separated himself from the partisan bickering and absolutism. In contrast with his party’s standard, which has drifted farther right under Tea Party influence, Ryan is moderate (if not left of center) on key domestic issues such as the environment, energy, and education. Meanwhile, his fiscal policy is decidedly conservative.
However, two characteristics most set Ryan apart from the toxicity of today’s congress. First is his insistence upon holding what he calls an “adult conversation” on the budget, debt, and entitlement reform. It only takes a glance at daily headlines to understand why he thinks the “adult” factor is lacking in today’s “conversation.”
On the right is Christine O’Donnell, the Republican senatorial nominee for Delaware, who has on record claimed the rise of AIDS in America is linked directly to the removal of Bibles from our public schools. On the left is Alan Grayson, a Democratic congressman running for reelection in the 8th district of Florida, who called his opponent Daniel Webster “Taliban Dan” in an attack ad, using out-of-context quotes from a speech Webster gave to paint him as a chauvinistic Christian fundamentalist. In contrast, Ryan’s own rhetoric, whether it is on Chris Matthews’ Hardball debating fiscal policy or on the campaign trail this fall, has remained focused on policy. He has proven immune to what can be described as an epidemic of political immaturity pervading campaign trails and afflicting the likes of O’Donnell and Grayson.
The second quality making Paul Ryan a standout politician, especially amongst his own party, is his belief in ideas. While the Republicans collectively have been criticized as the “Party of No,” denying Democratic legislation passage while producing none of their own, Ryan is exempt. His plan to balance the budget and rein in what he considers unsustainable entitlements, labeled “A Roadmap for America’s Future,” is exhaustingly comprehensive. The question is then, why is Paul Ryan, a sound speaker, mature policy-maker, and producer of substantial legislation, not at the forefront of the Republican Party – instead of Christine O’Donnell?
This gap between Ryan and his Republican brethren was emphasized when the party released their “Pledge to America,” promising what would be done if they were granted control of congress. While it covered many of the issues Ryan is invested in, it did not mention his Roadmap, a surprise to many political commentators. This decision was a manifestation of the increasingly extreme Republican base. If the right wing does want to approach the issues facing the United States today, it is important that they take the more moderate of the two paths. If Ryan is to be slighted in favor of Tea Party candidates who have little understanding of the issues, then it would be safe to expect an indefinite continuation of the inertia-strangling congress. If any progress is to be made by the right, it lies in the likes of Ryan, whose legislation and comprehension of the issues at hand combine for an uncommonly able politician and statesman.
*For sources, please contact the writer.