Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and his artificially obsidian widow's peak are running for president in 2016. Yesterday's events proved this, as surely as Ryan's continued political survival proves bros are the indestructible cockroaches, the reinventing Madonnas, the injured-but-always-starting Derek Jeters of humanity.
Late last night, Ryan joined Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a liberal hero and Ryan's budget-making counterpart in the Senate, to announce a major policy breakthrough: The two had agreed on a plan to fund the United States government for the next two years. "Deal Brings Stability to U.S. Budget," the Wall Street Journal cheered. The New York Times said it was "an end to instability."
Ezra Klein accurately described the Ryan/Murray plan as a "mini-budget deal." It ignores Medicare and Social Security and subsistence for the unemployed. It restores the bipartisan consensus that spending on military stuff is sacrosanct. And it reaffirms that our government, like the proverbial mangy old porch-dwelling sack of a canine, cannot actually do any new tricks—it can only, at best, agree to keep in place the pro-market anti-safety-net minimalist performance-art-as-policy that it's executed in years past.
But in an atmosphere where our expectations are so vulgarly low—where government shutdowns and world-shaking debt defaults and Barnumesque Senate floor stemwinders are now go-to tools for the average-IQ cheap haircuts we send to govern in our names—a "mini-budget deal" appears as a Marshall Plan, and its architects are as statesmen.
Say that aloud: "Paul Ryan, statesman." He's probably saying it, now, to himself on the House elevator. It probably forms the whispery thesis of his soon-to-be-published book. He was very statesmanlike this week. He sold all of America on the status quo. Not even the status quo president could do that.
It really is a remarkable achievement, doubly so if you're the kind of person who doesn't remember that Paul Ryan is an Ayn Rand groupie who not long ago declared open war on Grandma, decrying her and minorities, and children, and mothers as "takers," not "makers." That he wanted to kill Social Security and Medicare, then denied it and falsely claimed it was the current president who wanted to kill Medicare, then tried to kill them again.
Now he wants to be a great compromiser. Oh, my! How courageous! Won't he be savaged by red-meat conservatives and tea partiers for working with Democrats? Isn't that a huge risk for the young congressman? But in standing up to the ideologues of his own party, he shows us that he is a new Paul Ryan, a grownup, serious, a real adult in the room.
There is a large person-shaped indentation in the spot where Americans customarily look for a leader of the Republican Party. Conservatives occasionally try to stuff it full with precut tissue-paper wisps of cant like Marco Rubio, but they keep blowing away. And conservatives have succeeded for the most part (2010 congressional visitors aside) in keeping the hard right—tea partiers, Heritage- and Club for Growth-approved sick misogynists—from pouring its hot magma into the void.
And so, if Ryan can appear weightier than an empty Brooks Brothers suit, but cooler than a spurting fascist volcano, there may yet be a position of leadership in this party—this party which, for all its depraved attacks on human wellbeing and freedom, for all its existential vicissitudes, will still net 45 to 51 percent of the (counted) votes in any given national election.
Paul Ryan just needs to slip into his party's velvety soft individual-sized void, and then inspire and/or demotivate a few key voters in a few key precincts. This is not so hard. He has almost three years to do it.
He will run as an urbane liberal conservative with rural roots who's a great compromiser that never negotiates his principles. He will be young and vigorous with the wisdom of grownups. He will be pleasant and ardent.
He will be whatever you are, and if you are too schizophrenic to figure out what you are, America, then he will still be whatever, and you will become him.
[Photo credit: AP]