February 8, 2016
By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week
Ever since he became speaker of the House, Paul Ryan has generated a lot of excitement among conservatives — and also very high expectations. He’s bound to make some people unhappy eventually.
Recently, Ryan gave an important speech at Heritage Action, one of the political groups that made life particularly difficult for his predecessor, John Boehner.
The coverage of the speech focused on a sound bite: his call to, in the words of William Wallace in Braveheart, “unite the clans.”
The Republican Party is in ideological disarray, and in a state of low-level war. The grassroots are angry, very angry at the establishment. In general this has been a healthy dynamic: It has given us some of the greatest political stars of the country, like Sen. Mike Lee and, well, Speaker Ryan.
But it has also led the conservative movement to behave like a circular firing squad and to embark on politically disastrous follies like the government shutdown over ObamaCare. It’s also probably limited the ability of Congress to pass legislation.
This is a dynamic that the Democrats, and in particular President Obama, have tried to exploit. Obama has been very good at trolling the GOP by emphasizing wedge issues like the so-called “war on women,” or immigration enforcement, or the Second Amendment — and the GOP has been eager to take the bait. That’s always dumb politics, but particularly in an election year.
But Ryan’s call wasn’t simply to “unite the clans,” simply for the sake of making it easier for the GOP to regain the White House this year, although that’s an important goal. Ryan is a policy wonk, one who is determined to achieve a policy agenda. One line that he has been trotting out has been the need to become “a proposition party” instead of “an opposition party.”