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Speaker Ryan Repeats “Makers vs. Takers” Apology, Fails to Challenge Trump’s Fascism

When I heard the news about Speaker Paul Ryan’s speech Wednesday on the state of American politics, his rejection of “makers vs. takers” rhetoric and his call for debate about ideas instead of identity politics, I thought, Holy cow! Could Donald Trump drive Republicans back to decency and sanity?

Then I read the speech and found it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin

Speaker Ryan repeated his renunciation of his “makers vs. takers” rhetoric from his time as Mitt Romney’s ticketmate:

I’m certainly not going to stand here and tell you I have always met this standard. There was a time when I would talk about a difference between “makers” and “takers” in our country, referring to people who accepted government benefits. But as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. “Takers” wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.

So I stopped thinking about it that way—and talking about it that way. But I didn’t come out and say all this to be politically correct. I was just wrong [Speaker Paul Ryan, speech, 2016.03.23].

This kinder, gentler statement isn’t new; Ryan first laid it out in a 2014 Wall Street Journal op-ed and included it in his 2014 book The Way Forward: Renewing the American Idea. He reminds us that we should not view food stamps, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, and the rest of the social safety net as us-versus-them issues on which we can pretend to be morally superior to our unfortunate neighbors… especially not in an America in which nearly 60% of us stand a good chance of falling into poverty at some point in our lives. People receiving government benefits aren’t enemy leeches; they are neighbors. They are us. That’s not a new sentiment from Speaker Ryan, but it bears repeating, especially among Republicans who keep forgetting that we are all in this together.

(And hey, if Speaker Ryan really means it, if he really can get the Republican Party to stop villainizing recipients of government benefits as drug-using welfare queens, I’ll stop teasing Republican South Dakota for relying so heavily on federal money.)

What really would have been new and useful from Speaker Ryan is an explicit repudiation of Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner who threatens our democracy with more than mere demonization of the poor. Speaker Ryan failed to go there, offering instead some pablum about niceness that doesn’t mention Mussolini but blames the Axis and the Allies for meanness:

Looking around at what’s taking place in politics today, it is easy to get disheartened. How many of you find yourself just shaking your head at what you see from both sides? [Ryan, 2016.03.23]

Both sides, Speaker Ryan? There’s only one fascist leading the primary race for the Presidential nomination, and he’s not on my side.

Ideas, passionately promoted and put to the test—that’s what politics can be. That’s what our country can be. It can be a confident America, where we have a basic faith in politics and leaders. It can be a place where we’ve earned that faith. All of us as leaders can hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity and decency. Instead of playing to your anxieties, we can appeal to your aspirations. Instead of playing the identity politics of “our base” and “their base,” we unite people around ideas and principles. And instead of being timid, we go bold [Ryan, 2016.03.23].

Yet Speaker Ryan remains timid in the face of Donald Trump’s fascism. Asked if he agrees with Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (and, for that matter, our own Stanford Adelstein) that Trump is an authoritarian in the mold of Mussolini and Hitler, Speaker Ryan said Tuesday, “I don’t see it that way.” He continues to namby-pamby along as a slave to the will of the primary voters who will acquiesce to a Trump nomination rather than leading those voters to a clearer understanding of the fascism that warrants their rejection of the Trump threat. He continues to leave a policy vacuum that Trump fills not with the ideas but with bombast and machismo.

The timidity of Ryan and other GOP leaders has allowed a bold amoral actor to scoop up their party’s voters, hijack their nomination, and put the Republic at risk. Only a bold response that sheds Ryan’s false-equivalency partisanship will defeat that risk.


  1. Rorschach 2016-03-24

    Golly shucks. I’m not interested at all in the GOP party nomination for president at a brokered convention. Heavens no. But if it’s forced on me like the speakership I guess I’ll have to protest a bit before accepting.

  2. Eve Fisher 2016-03-24

    And see, I’m just an old sweetie at heart. Until I get the power I so richly deserve, at which point, I’ll go back to my old ways. (Seriously, that’s the end of the speech – that he’ll say wrong things again.)

  3. Loren 2016-03-24

    Will he take the Presidential nomination like he did the Speaker’s job, only if he can work 3 days a week, spend more time with his family and live in Wisconsin? I guess it really wouldn’t be that bad. After all, he would only be working on days Congress is in session. Not much to do on weekends in DC, anyhow.

  4. mike from iowa 2016-03-24

    Ryan was finally enlightened. The majority of takers are white people and families.

  5. Spencer 2016-03-24

    If the GOP had a legion of super delegates, we could just decide this in a smoky room somewhere and be done with Trump. I guess that is just one of the many pitfalls of a democratic process.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-25

    Sure, Spencer, but too many Republicans are letting this democratic process run the country into the ditch as if they could do nothing about it. They cold open their mouths, say they will not support Trump, make the case to the voters why they should not support Trump, and his lead would evaporate. But because party leaders like Ryan remain timid, Trump’s aggression can fill the vacuum.

  7. leslie 2016-03-27

    meanwhile on the democratic ticket, which will likely win November…,

    “Most of his [Bernie’s]14 primary-season wins have been in states with largely white populations and in caucus contests, which tend to attract the most active liberal Democrats. He’s heavily favored by younger voters, who were a key part of the coalition that boosted Barack Obama to victory twice. Clinton’s ability to win the White House, should she capture the nomination, will hinge on how well she can motivate his passionate – and politically active – supporters. ap

    she’s at 1700 plus delegates to his almost 1000 in the race for about 2300.

    time to go hide colorful eggs. I noticed a few were missing in a clutch on dinosaur hill:)

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