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House Speaker Paul Ryan And The Art Of Leadership

October 30, 2018

I have found it interesting watching House Speaker Paul Ryan try to navigate the choppy factions of his caucus and thread the needle of a relationship with Donald Trump.  No one can envy his job, even though we can be exasperated with the outcomes it produces.

After allowing the tail to wag the dog to the point the legislative branch in Washington looks bedraggled, Ryan finally found his strong voice this week.  In a forthright fashion Ryan broke with Donald Trump concerning citizenship conferred on babies born in the United States.  That such a matter is even one that Ryan, or any other member of congress needs to address, is more evidence of how far removed our nation is from concentrating on the real issues which require our attention.

Ryan made it clear that even though Trump would like to sign an executive order to undermine the Constitution he will not be able to do so.   Earlier Trump said in an interview–with two stunned journalists–that the White House counsel had advised him there was legal standing to terminate birthright citizenship.  Every high school civics class surely sat in shock knowing they were more aware of our Constitution than the president.

“Well, you obviously cannot do that,” was the way Ryan handled the matter when asked about it by a reporter. “You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.”

It would have been appropriate for the interviewer to have asked Ryan why it had taken so long for the speaker to find his voice?  Did Ryan, in not acting with the power he held as speaker over the past two years, take any responsibility for the national chaos that has ensued?

While we can all agree with Ryan’s view of the 14th Amendment one has to ask why there was such a reluctance for the legislative branch to stand up to the numerous unconstitutional and illegal actions which Trump has been engaged in?  Now that the end of his congressional days are in sight Ryan finds his voice.

“You know, as a conservative, I’m a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution, and I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process.”

Ryan, like many Republicans who term themselves as conservatives, have tried to explain they needed to cozy up to Trump so to get issues passed such as tax cuts, eliminating regulations, and placing judges on the court.   But I would argue all that misses the mark by a mile for conservatives with a conscience.

The anchors that once held conservatives tight have been cut lose. Many conservatives sold out for the very things they spoke out against for decades.  Moral relativism and moral equivalency are now the new ties that bind Trump with his party, and with his base of supporters.  As long as that means election victories many conservatives are willing to sell out what they once viewed as deeply held beliefs.

Ryan was fine with backing off his conservative principals if he could have a seat at the table of power.  But in so doing he muted his own voice.  There is no way he could reason the Trump phenomenon was somehow a natural extension of conservatism.  There is no way since so much of what Trump praises runs counter to the bedrock principles of conservative thinkers and writers. Should we start with deficit spending?  Trade wars?

Now Ryan has his back up when it comes to the issue of the 14th Amendment.  In, and of itself, that is a good thing.  Truly justifiable. But it looks so odd to see him in this strident position.  It is also painful to know his needed leadership could have been marshaled, time and again, over the past two years for the sake of the nation.

Leadership is something that one can try for and never attain.  Or it can be thrust upon the shoulders of a person, such as it did with President Bush on 9/11.  I wonder how historians will consider the missed opportunity when Speaker Ryan could have been the voice of opposition from within his party to the actions of Trump?

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