E.J. Dionne on Paul Ryan

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Here is a taste of Dionne’s column at The Washington Post:

Paul D. Ryan started his political life hoping to be the champion of a sunny, forward-looking conservatism. He will step down from the House speakership as the personification of conservatism’s decline.

One is tempted to call the Wisconsin Republican’s journey tragic, the tale of a young, idealistic family man transformed into an enabler for the most morally indifferent and utterly selfish president in our nation’s history.

It’s hard to imagine that the 28-year-old who entered Congress in 1999 thought fate would lead him to protect a chief executive under scrutiny for suspected involvement in a payoff to a porn star and potential entanglements with Russian interference in our election.

Read the rest here.

Who Do Evangelicals Trust on Politics?

Trump Beleive me

A recent poll has found that almost fifty percent of evangelicals say a Donald Trump recommendation would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.  Meanwhile, fifty-four percent of evangelicals said a Hillary Clinton endorsement would make them less likely to vote for a candidates.

Here is the list of evangelicals’ most-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Donald Trump
  2. Mike Pence
  3. George W. Bush
  4. Paul Ryan
  5. Barack Obama
  6. Michelle Obama
  7. Oprah
  8. Joel Osteen
  9. Bernie Sanders
  10. Jerry Falwell Jr.

Here is the list of evangelical’s least-trusted celebrity endorsers:

  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Kim Kardashian
  3. Nancy Pelosi
  4. Bill Clinton
  5. Kanye West
  6. Barack Obama
  7. Michelle Obama
  8. Beyonce
  9. Ellen DeGeneres
  10. Bernie Sanders

Kate Shellnut has a story on this survey at Christianity Today.  Read it here.

A few quick observations:

  • Joel Osteen is the only minister who made the top ten.
  • Evangelicals trust Oprah more than ministers to offer them political advice.
  • The Obamas and Bernie Sanders are on both lists.
  • Evangelicals do not take political advice from Kim Kardashian, Kanye West, Beyonce, and Ellen, but the fact they they made the “least-trusted” list shows that they are clearly obsessed with these celebrities.

A Message to Irish-Catholic Trump Supporters

Kelly

John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, sends an important reminder to pro-Trump Catholics who think immigrants are “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Here is a taste of his piece at Commonweal:

Kelly, an Irish-American Catholic from Boston, is either oblivious to the irony of someone with his family’s background trafficking in pernicious stereotypes or knowingly tapping into the power of caricatures to dehumanize people. Irish immigrants were similarly demonized in the nineteenth century when they fled the Potato Famine. Like the parents of today’s Dreamers, they took great risks in search of a better life for their family. The Irish were viewed as so alien to the Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority they were not even regarded by many as “white.” The Boston Globe described the zeitgeist of the era in a 2016 article.

In the popular press, the Irish were depicted as subhuman. They were carriers of disease. They were drawn as lazy, clannish, unclean, drunken brawlers who wallowed in crime and bred like rats. Most disturbingly, the Irish were Roman Catholics coming to an overwhelmingly Protestant nation and their devotion to the pope made their allegiance to the United States suspect.

It was out of this context that a nativist movement flourished. By the 1850s, the Know-Nothing Party, originally called the American Party, included eight governors, more than one-hundred congressmen, and held power in half a dozen state legislatures. In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan expanded in New England and the Midwest, targeting immigrants and Catholics. A massive KKK rally in Worcester, Mass. attracted as many as fifteen-thousand people in 1924. At the end of the rally, the Klan clashed with Catholics who came to counter protest under a Knights of Columbus banner.

The politics of nativism is not new. But there is something particularly galling about Catholic members of this administration such as Kelly, and powerful members of Congress, including Speaker Paul Ryan, leading or enabling the contemporary incarnation of anti-immigrant policies and xenophobia. Ryan posted a picture on Twitter this week showing him welcoming a member of the Irish Parliament. “Even if my Gaelic is a little rough,” Ryan tweeted, “always great to connect with my roots.”

Kelly, Ryan, and others should remember those roots included immigrants from a different place but with the same dreams. In the face of craven politicians who perpetuated fear and ugly stereotypes, those immigrants persevered and made America great.

Read the entire piece here.

Trump’s Evangelical Supporters Stay the Course

U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. during a campaign event in Sioux City Iowa

As I write this several GOP leaders have already pulled their support for Trump after the tape of his offensive comments about women was released.  From what I have been able to glean from watching Fox News today, the cable network’s approach to the scandal might be described as “What Trump said was bad and he shouldn’t have said it, but Bill Clinton…”  GOP Chair Reince Prebius and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan have condemned the remarks, but as far as I can tell they have not pulled their endorsement.  (I don’t think Prebius has any choice–Trump is the GOP nominee).

But what about the evangelicals who have backed Trump?  No word from Falwell Jr. or Franklin Graham, but Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress and Christian Right strategist Ralph Reed seem unphased by it all.

Here is a taste Betsy Woodruff’s report at The Daily Beast:

Evangelicals who opposed him before still aren’t fans. And the ones in his camp aren’t phased by the recording. That’s because this isn’t about how much they like the brash billionaire; it’s about how unflinching they are in their opposition to Hillary Clinton.

“People of faith are voting on issues like who will protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, defend religious liberty and oppose the Iran nuclear deal,” said Ralph Reed, who heads the Faith & Freedom Coalition. “A ten-year-old tape of a private conversation with a talk show host ranks low on their hierarchy of concerns.”

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.

But, he added, he’s still voting Trump. He said he moderated a meeting between the candidate and Evangelical and Catholic leaders, and he was forthright about his hesitations about Trump’s moral

“I said at that time, with Trump sitting next to me, I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday School teacher,” Jeffress said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

He added that he doesn’t think Hillary Clinton is morally superior to Trump.

“Here is a woman who lied to the families of the Benghazi victims, she destroyed 33,000 emails while under subpoena, and she’s attacked the women who attacked her husband,” he said. “The fact is we’re all sinners, we all need forgiveness, and God doesn’t grade people according to their level of sin.”

And David Bozell, a Roman Catholic who heads the conservative group ForAmerica and supports Trump, said the audio won’t change how conservative voters view the candidate.

 “Bill Clinton’s history of being a sexual predator, including affairs with interns, dwarfs any locker room banter,” he said. “The clip is unfortunate, but then again, we’re not electing saints in November.”
Read the entire piece here.

How Many Speakers of the House Became President of the United States?

James K. Polk: Speaker of the House AND President of United States

I am going to take a wild guess here and say that Paul Ryan would like to one day be President of the United States.  If he does aspire to the highest office in the land he may want to think twice about running for Speaker of the House.

Only one former Speaker of the House was ever elected President of the United States.  That was James K. Polk.  He was Speaker from 1835-1839 and President from 1845-1849.

Henry Clay came close.  He was Speaker from 1811-1821 and again from 1823-1825. He was a serious contender for the presidency in 1824, 1832, and 1844.

The presidential election of 1844 pitted two former Speakers: Polk and Clay.

Something for Paul Ryan to think about.

The GOP’s Moral Creed

One of the most revealing moments of this week’s GOP convention came during Paul Ryan’s speech on Wednesday night:

Our different faiths come together in the same moral creed. We believe that in every life there is goodness; for every person, there is hope. Each one of us was made for a reason, bearing the image and likeness of the Lord of Life.

We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.

Each of these great moral ideas is essential to democratic government – to the rule of law, to life in a humane and decent society. They are the moral creed of our country, as powerful in our time, as on the day of America’s founding. They are self-evident and unchanging, and sometimes, even presidents need reminding, that our rights come from nature and God, not from government.

On paper, I agree with almost everything Ryan said in this excerpt. The Romney campaign did a nice job of handling religion this week. Romney talked about religious liberty.  There were moving speakers who testified to his Mormon faith, but they did so not in terms of doctrine or theology, but in terms of compassion, love, and service.  These kinds of generic religious virtues can be embraced by most religious Americans.

Much of what the GOP had to say about religion this week reflected the ideas of the American Founders.  The Founders believed that religion was good for the Republic. They championed religious liberty and refused to endorse any specific religious creed.  I don’t think I heard anything about a “Christian nation” this week, although it was clear that the “moral creed” Ryan and others espoused was informed by a mix of Protestant evangelicalism, Catholicism, and Mormonism.  (Where is the next Will Herberg or Kevin Schultz to write a book called “Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Mormon“?  The “Mormon Moment” has truly arrived).

Yet it was difficult to mesh all of this rhetoric about a moral nation with what was the most prominent theme of the convention–American individualism.  

Nearly every speaker referenced their roots in either poverty or the working class.  According to his wife Anne, Mitt Romney ate tuna-fish on an ironing board in a basement apartment. Tim Pawlenty’s father was a truck driver.  Chris Christie’s Dad worked at the Breyer’s ice cream plant.  Paul Ryan extolled his humble roots in Janesville, Wisconsin. 

The story that the GOP told this week was informed less by the ideas of the American founding and more by the nineteenth-century myth of the self-made man.

When the Founders thought about a moral or virtuous republic they thought about it not only in terms of individual liberty, but in terms of sacrifice. Their vision was not only about pulling oneself up from poverty and the working class, but about living in a benevolent community in which people will sometimes temporarily lay aside their rights and interests in order to serve their neighbor, their community, and the common good. 

I think we got a glimpse of this from the members of Mitt Romney’s Mormon congregation who testified to his compassion and pastoral care, but unless you were watching PBS or C-SPAN you did not see these powerful testimonies.  (I am still, however, trying to balance Mitt Romney the loving pastor with Mitt Romney the venture capitalist, but I will leave that for another post)

Ryan’s words about “responsibilities, one to another” were helpful, but if his voting record is any indication, this kind of rhetoric only applies to abortion. What if Ryan applied his commitment to care for the weak and vulnerable to all Americans?  His stand for the life of the unborn is admirable, but his application of Catholic social teaching to public policy is very limited.  (If Joe Biden bones-up on the tenets of Catholic social teaching the VP debate might be very interesting).

The GOP used its convention to tell a story of ambition, rights, and personal freedoms.  All of these things are good and deeply American, but a healthy society cannot be sustained on these ideas alone.  Moreover, the Ben Franklin-Horatio Alger-Andrew Carnegie vision of the American dream fails to recognize a fundamental fact of history, namely that people–even Americans–have struggled to make this dream a reality.  Certainly people have contingency to direct their lives along the paths they want to go, and this is something that makes America unique, if not exceptional, in the annals of modern history, but we cannot ignore the fact that people are also shaped by the circumstances of their past. We are not autonomous individuals.

I do not think I heard the word “common good” at any point during the GOP convention.  I heard nothing about the cultivation of a civil society in which people learn from their differences and forge a national community.  It was all personal stories of rising from poverty or the working class to “make it” in America.

Of course such rhetoric will work well among people who do not like government intervention.  And it works particularly well when you are trying to unseat a president who believes that the government has an active role to play in people’s lives.  But such a view of America only gets the Founders half-right.  As the grandchild of immigrants, a first-generation college student, a son of the working-class, and a beneficiary of the American Dream, the message I took away from the GOP convention left me hollow.  I think it would have left the Founders hollow as well.