Re­tir­ing Paul Ryan is no Mar­garet Chase Smith

The Maui News - - OPINION - MARK SHIELDS Mark Shields is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. His past col­umns can be read at www.cre­ators.com.

Shortly af­ter

Hawaii and Alaska joined the Union and I was still a semiy­oung wiseguy, smugly sure that a celebrity can­di­date whose prospec­tive cam­paign had sparked pub­lic in­ter­est would be­come a se­ri­ous White House chal­lenger, a griz­zled po­lit­i­cal re­porter brought me up short with this prac­ti­cal ad­vice: “If a can­di­date gets mea­sur­ably louder ap­plause from the crowd when he’s in­tro­duced to speak than he does when he’s fin­ished speak­ing, that can­di­date is overrated and will not be a win­ner.” Re­tir­ing House Speaker Paul Ryan — who is get­ting much less praise on the way out than he did on the way in, when he was called a leader of “char­ac­ter and val­ues,” a per­son with “en­ergy and vi­sion” and the “in­tel­lec­tual leader” of the Repub­li­can Party — is the most re­cent ev­i­dence of the wis­dom of that old po­lit­i­cal adage.

To his credit, Ryan, un­like too many with­draw­ing politi­cians, al­most cer­tainly means it when he speaks of go­ing back to Wis­con­sin to spend time with his fam­ily, to whom he is de­voted. But his legacy, be­yond a tax law that light­ens the bur­den on those most ca­pa­ble of pay­ing, the truly ad­van­taged, and, ac­cord­ing to the re­spected Con­gres­sional Bud­get Of­fice, sen­tences the na­tion and Ryan’s Janesville neigh­bors — in a time not of wide-scale war or painful re­ces­sion but of cel­e­brated eco­nomic pros­per­ity and low un­em­ploy­ment — to an­nual fed­eral bud­get deficits of $1 bil­lion-plus.

But Ryan’s dis­ap­point­ment is about more than a record of fail­ing to honor his re­peated pledge of fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity. As an­other promi­nent fig­ure — one who was a long­time Repub­li­can — has writ­ten in the na­tion’s best-sell­ing book, “it is also wrong to stand idly by, or worse, to stay silent when you know bet­ter, while a pres­i­dent brazenly seeks to un­der­mine pub­lic con­fi­dence in law en­force­ment in­sti­tu­tions that were es­tab­lished to keep our lead­ers in check.” And it was wrong for the speaker of the House to sab­o­tage one of the only places in Congress where grown-ups were in charge and ra­bid par­ti­san­ship had been kept in check, the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, by in­stalling and main­tain­ing as chair­man Devin Nunes, a blind par­ti­san and un­ques­tion­ing White House er­rand boy.

On June 1, 1950, two years af­ter she had be­come the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Sen­ate, Mar­garet Chase Smith of Maine stood on the Sen­ate floor and dared to take on her Repub­li­can col­league Joseph Mc­Carthy of Wis­con­sin, whose charges of com­mu­nist in­fil­tra­tion and sub­ver­sion of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment dom­i­nated the na­tional con­ver­sa­tion and in­tim­i­dated politi­cians in both par­ties.

No less a con­ser­va­tive in­tel­lec­tual than Wil­liam F. Buck­ley de­fined “McCarthy­ism” as “a move­ment around which men of good will and stern moral­ity can close ranks.” But not Smith, who chal­lenged her col­leagues to weigh their con­sciences and “to do some soul-search­ing.” Be­cause of Mc­Carthy and his un­sub­stan­ti­ated ac­cu­sa­tions of trea­son, the Sen­ate had “been de­based to the level of a fo­rum of hate and char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion.” Smith de­clared: “I don’t want to see the Repub­li­can Party ride to po­lit­i­cal vic­tory on the Four Horse­men of Calumny — fear, ig­no­rance, big­otry and smear.”

No Mar­garet Chase Smith he, House Speaker Paul Ryan will in­stead be re­mem­bered, sadly, for def­er­en­tially and pub­licly prais­ing Don­ald Trump for his “ex­quis­ite pres­i­den­tial lead­er­ship.”

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