April 20, 2018
Paul Ryan’s retirement has prompted many comments. One of the more unusual is a column in USA Today by Andrew Cline. Mr. Cline is "president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in New Hampshire." The caption to his column is "America is done with adults like Paul Ryan. Donald Trump and celebrities are the future."
"Preceding [Ryan] to the exit was the numbers-crunching, economics-guided GOP he had supposedly molded in his image only a few years ago." It isn’t clear what that means. Was there no such GOP, or was it not in Ryan’s image? I’d suggest the former. " Trump will be blamed, naturally." For Ryan’s exit or that of the number-crunching? "But Trump is a symptom, not a cause. Paul Ryan is a serious man in an unserious time. American culture is undergoing a transformation. It is jettisoning adulthood." He’s right that Trump is a symptom, although he also is a cause, of the condition of the Republican Party and, therefore, in part a cause of Ryan’s retirement. More on that later.
Mr. Cline blames loss of seriousness on "[t]he rise of youth culture in the mid 20th century." The result of the dominance of youth, he says, is that "the worst mistake a politician can make is to be uncool" As proof he argues that "[e]very losing presidential candidate since 1980 was the least ‘cool’ candidate in the race." The list includes Jimmy Carter, losing to Ronald Reagan; Walter Mondale, losing to Reagan; Michael Dukakis, losing to George H.W. Bush; Bush, losing to Bill Clinton; Bob Dole, losing to Clinton; Al Gore, losing to George W. Bush; John Kerry, losing to Bush; John McCain, losing to Barack Obama; Mitt Romney, losing to Obama; and Hillary Clinton, losing to Donald Trump. That’s an unusual interpretation, and it founders on the victories in the popular vote by the uncool Gore and Hillary. Also, would he have been happier with Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Gore and Hillary Clinton? I doubt it, but his formula seems to lead to that conclusion.
The further implication of Mr. Cline’s complaint is that the adult Paul Ryan is uncool, although he puts it this way: Ryan has dignity, decency and gravitas. Let’s grant the first and pass on the second for now. Apparently the last means that he has ideas: "Ryan is the latest in a [long line] of political figures of both parties who were drawn to politics by ideas only to find themselves at the mercy of forces that are more powerful than spreadsheets and footnoted policy papers." Under this theory, Ryan, who attempted to offer detailed, constructive ideas, is out because the adolescent public elects adolescent people who won’t listen to him.
"Sober, calm and judicious are out. Loud, obnoxious and incessant are in. The social dynamics of the nursery are governing our political discourse." That could describe the advent of Donald Trump, and Mr. Cline’s complaint that the media don’t pay enough attention to policy issues has merit, but those factors don’t fully explain Ryan’s retirement or validate his ideas.
The column uses the word "sober" four times, no doubt to emphasize Ryan’s distance from everyone else’s frivolity, as in "sober analysis of health care policy . . . was Ryan’s strength." Here’s what Ryan’s health-care notions produced, his attempt to repeal Obamacare: "The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It rolls back the expansion of Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy. . . . It also significantly reduces federal assistance to lower-income Americans paying for health insurance, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.". Fortunately, the Senate didn’t go along.
Ryan had an undeserved reputation as a deficit hawk, which disappeared with the tax cut, his true priority. Here’s another relevant evaluation, from Paul Krugman: "[Ryan’s] ‘deficit reduction’ proposals were always frauds. The revenue loss from tax cuts always exceeded any explicit spending cuts, so the pretense of fiscal responsibility came entirely from ‘magic asterisks’: extra revenue from closing unspecified loopholes, reduced spending from cutting unspecified programs." Ryan’s "decency," if we define that in terms of fair treatment of the non-wealthy, also evaporates: "Can anyone name a single instance in which his supposed concern about the deficit made him willing to impose any burden on the wealthy, in which his supposed compassion made him willing to improve the lives of the poor?"
A conservative columnist, Ross Douthat, doesn’t think much of Ryan’s intellectual leadership. "He was miscast as a visionary when he was fundamentally a party man — a diligent and policy-oriented champion for whatever the institutional G.O.P. appeared to want, a pilot who ultimately let the party choose the vessel’s course." 
Ryan can blame his early retirement in part on the disaster that is Donald Trump, though Ryan was not noted for standing up to him; Republicans in Congress have been willing to tolerate Trump as long as they can use him. Ryan’s retirement seems to have more to do with electoral chances, his and the party’s, than weariness in dealing with the less serious. Republicans are in trouble this year because of Trump’s unfitness for office, but also because of their policies, which Ryan advanced.
33. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/04/11/paul-ryan-retires- congress-adults-out-donald-trump-column/507904002/
34. https://thinkprogress.org/goodbye-to-paul-ryan-horrible-health-care-policies- ab70ca59da53/
35. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/opinion/paul-ryan-fascism.html?rref=collection %2Fcolumn%2Fpaul-krugman&action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=3&pgtype=collection
36. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/14/opinion/Sunday/paul-ryan-republican-party. html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_ty_20180416&nl=opinion-today&nl_art= 9&nlid=22748210emc%3Dedit_ty_20180416&ref=headline&te=1