The peo­ple’s race

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker

WASH­ING­TON — The spec­tac­u­lar strangeness of this pres­i­den­tial elec­tion may re­quire a new dis­play in Ri­p­ley’s Od­di­to­rium of be­lieve-it-or-nots.

Among the ex­hibits, cu­ra­tors might place the His­tory of Con­ven­tional Wis­dom, wherein the page ti­tled “Pop­ulists Never Win in Amer­ica” has a large, red X drawn through the word “never.”

Like all things sta­tus quo, this bit of wis­dom seems aimed for re­tire­ment. In­deed, no one wins this year by promis­ing to keep things just the way they are. From the can­di­da­cies of Bernie San­ders and Don­ald Trump to the many thou­sands of fans who stand in line to catch a glimpse of these two, the let­ters in “unbe- liev­able” are be­ing worn off the key­boards of po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors these days.

Then again, when have news folks been more de­lighted by the hor­ror be­fore them? Sad but true: What’s bad for the Repub­lic is good for car­toon­ists and colum­nists.

Fur­ther ev­i­dence of the unique­ness of this sea­son is the power of small purses against the Big Money that Amer­i­cans now find so of­fen­sive. You want to end in­come in­equal­ity? How bet­ter to send a mes­sage to Wall Street than to out-fund the nom­i­nee of the con­ven­tion­ally wise?

For the past three months, San­ders has out­raised Hil­lary Clin­ton with mostly small, grass­roots do­na­tions, while Clin­ton, whose great­est deficit may be her mem­ber­ship in the pan­theon of power politics, re­lies on big-donor fundrais­ers.

It is still Clin­ton’s nom­i­na­tion to lose, again ac- cord­ing to con­ven­tional wis­dom, but in a sense both San­ders and Trump would win by los­ing. Both have forced their re­spec­tive par­ties fur­ther to the fringes and nei­ther, one sus­pects, re­ally wants to be pres­i­dent. Who would? Only a fool — or the truly duty-bound.

Into this camp I would place Clin­ton, who may feel it her duty to be­come pres­i­dent, and not only to sat­isfy what is nec­es­sar­ily a per­sonal goal as an ex­am­ple to women the world over. I’d also put John Ka­sich next to her. In ad­di­tion to seem­ing de­cent and sin­cere (and some­times an­noy­ingly cheerful), he con­veys that he mostly wants to do the work.

And then there’s this other guy named Paul Ryan. Over on Capi­tol Hill, far from the madding crowd of ral­lies and race­horses, the new­est speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives has been qui­etly rein­vent- ing the Repub­li­can Party by cre­at­ing a new gov­ern­ing tem­plate.

Ryan re­cently spoke of his phi­los­o­phy to Hill in­terns in terms of sub­sidiar­ity as an or­ga­niz­ing prin­ci­ple in both his Catholic faith and his politics.

Po­lit­i­cally, sub­sidiar­ity is the idea that mat­ters should be han­dled by the small­est or least cen­tral­ized com­pe­tent au­thor­ity. Sim­i­larly, in Catholic so­cial thought, it means that noth­ing should be done by a larger cen­tral­ized or­ga­ni­za­tion that can be done as well by a smaller or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Struc­turally, this is the ar­gu­ment be­hind fed­er­al­ism and the con­ser­va­tive case for lim­ited gov­ern­ment. Prac­ti­cally, sub­sidiar­ity means that Ryan is tak­ing a bot­tom-up ap­proach to lead­er­ship. This means that de­bat­ing and pro­mul­gat­ing pol­icy pro­pos­als take place at the com­mit­tee level, where a more di­verse cross-sec­tion of voices and ideas can be aired.

Not all Catholics fa­vor cer­tain ap­pli­ca­tions of sub­sidiar­ity, es­pe­cially when it comes to wel­fare re­form and other poverty pro­grams. The schism within the church, in other words, re­flects the di­vide be­tween the two po­lit­i­cal par­ties. But both Repub­li­cans and Democrats may find com­mon ground in Ryan’s ap­pli­ca­tion of sub­sidiar­ity to the con­duct of the House, which is fun­da­men­tally aimed at invit­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple to the ta­ble.

With a jaun­diced eye, one notes that Ryan’s pro-peo­ple tem­plate seems rather well-timed for a con­tested con­ven­tion and per­haps for uni­fy­ing the party given the di­vi­sive­ness and re­pul­sion posed by Trump and, al­most equally, Ted Cruz. Plainly, it would be dicey for party lead­ers to by­pass Cruz or Ka­sich, but Cruz will lose in a gen­eral elec­tion and Ka­sich may lack suf­fi­cient sup­port to jus­tify pro­mot­ing him from last to first.

Thus, an ar­gu­ment could be made for a fresher face, a for­mer vice-pres­i­den­tial pick, who has a record of work­ing with Democrats, a man of faith and fam­ily val­ues whose only real bag­gage is the suit­case he car­ries home each week­end to Wis­con­sin.

Fi­nally and surely — surely — Ryan had some­thing more in mind when he agreed to take the speaker’s job against the ad­vice of so many. They feared, iron­i­cally, that he would be dam­aged by in­fight­ing and lose any shot at the pres­i­dency some day. Alas, he has done the op­po­site. We live and learn. And while Pres­i­dent Paul Ryan may not fit to­day’s con­ven­tional wis­dom, his nom­i­na­tion would barely reg­is­ter on Ri­p­ley’s odd-o-me­ter.

Kath­leen Parker is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact her at kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com.

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