The most tragic thing about President Trump’s war on his own party’s leaders - House Speaker Paul Ryan, in particular - is that Ryan continues to be one of this country’s best thinkers and spokesperson for the nation’s poor.
Ryan is losing support among Republicans not because he’s too liberal - in the Trumpian universe, the words conservative and liberal have little meaning left. He’s losing support because he’s being scapegoated for Trump’s own ineptitude.
That’s a shame, because Ryan has much to say about poverty and ways to address it.
National Review reports on an exchange that Ryan had recently with a Dominican nun, Sister Erica Jordan.
“I know that you’re Catholic, as am I, and it seems to me that most of the Republicans in the Congress are not willing to stand with the poor and working class as evidenced in the recent debates about health care and the anticipated tax reform,” she said to Ryan. “So, I’d like to ask you how you see yourself upholding the Church’s social teaching, that has the idea that God is always on the side of the poor and dispossessed, as should we be.”
His response was surprising - and enlightening.
“Sister, this may come as a surprise to you, but I completely agree with you,” Ryan said. “Where we may disagree is on how to achieve that goal.”
He then went on to explain that ends, not means, should be the goal.
“We need to change our approach on fighting poverty,” he said. “Instead of measuring success based on how much money we spend or how many programs we create or how many people are on those programs, let’s measure success in poverty on outcomes.”
National Review writer Alexis Desanctis notes that many Catholics weren’t happy with Ryan’s answer, but it’s consistent with Ryan’s Catholic faith.
“The Catholic Church has always been a strong voice in support of the poor, but that does not mean that all Catholics must rally around any one particular solution to poverty; there is no one solution,” Desanctis writes. “Faithful Catholics can make prudential judgments and support a variety of policies that seek to help the poor. Ryan argues - along with prominent Catholic public intellectuals such as the late theologian and philosopher Michael Novak or Arthur Brooks, the president of the American Enterprise Institute - that free enterprise and economic growth have shown more potential for actually lifting the poor out of poverty than have decades of federal programs and trillions of dollars in government spending.”
In fact, Ryan has put together a strategy - largely ignored by the Trump White House - he calls the Better Way agenda.
“Comprising six different areas of focus - poverty, national security, the economy, the Constitution, health care, and tax reform - the agenda aims to articulate not what Republicans stand against, but what they stand for,” wrote Ian Tuttle in National Review. “In Ryan’s preferred terms, it aims to turn the GOP from an ‘opposition’ party into a ‘proposition’ party.”
These ideas are what the Trump administration should pursue, rather than wars against its own party.