Editorial: Paul Ryan's moral high ground finds its low point

Posted December 5, 2017 5:00 a.m. EST

CBC Editorial: Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017; Editorial # 8244
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

If U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan ever held a moral high ground in the political landscape of our nation’s capital, he’s given it up. For evidence, look no further than his own words during an interview last week with NPR’s Morning Edition anchor Steve Inskeep.

In a broad-ranging discussion, the topic turned to the widening accusations of sexual harassment across the nation. In pointing out that Ryan has said that public officials “should be held to a very high standard,” Inskeep noted that Ryan has called on Alabama Republican Roy Moore to drop out of the Senate race because of “credible” allegations of inappropriate behavior with teenage girls and young women.

As Inskeep pressed Ryan, he sought to contrast Moore’s situation with that of the admitted behavior of President Donald Trump. “I haven't spent my time reviewing the difference in these two cases,” Ryan said, clearly seeking to avoid the topic.

Inskeep pressed on and Ryan admitted to having some “difference of opinions” with the president. But Ryan continued and what he had to say should give pause to those who truly expect public officials to act with integrity and meet a “higher standard.”

“What I see is a president who is fighting for the things that I'm fighting for. I see a president who's fighting for an agenda that will make a positive difference in people's lives. Is this president unconventional? No two ways about it.  He's very unconventional.  But if we make good by the American people by actually improving their lives and fixing problems and finding solutions that are bothering them, that's a good thing.  That's what we're working toward.”

There you have it. Ryan admits to selling out and admits that the ends justify most any means – even if that includes sexual harassment and lewd, boorish behavior by the president of the country. If Ryan didn’t feel Trump was a conduit for policies he favored, would he be more critical of the president’s behavior?

Ryan clearly chooses to use a double standard as well – based purely on politics. If John Conyers were a Republican instead of a Democrat, Ryan seems to suggest he ought to get a pass (instead, Ryan's calling for his resignation) amid increasing allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.

President Trump, who brags of forceful and inappropriate advances on women, is under a cloud of questionable campaign practices and pushing the agenda of hate-mongers, doesn’t get held to that “higher standard.” He and Ryan are ideological soulmates, regardless of the abhorrent behavior.

Saying that “My job here as Speaker of the House is to help make sure that Congress is an institution that we're proud” doesn’t cut it. Part of Ryan’s job as a leader of one of the three co-equal branches of government is to hold the executive branch accountable. That’s what our nation’s founders intended.

If Ryan is truly going to be a leader in Congress and the nation – just two heartbeats from the presidency – he can’t compartmentalize good and bad behavior by those who agree with his legislative agenda.

Ryan may have been looking to avoid the issue during his NPR interview, but instead provided a disappointing and all-too-revealing confession. Like many of his fellow leaders in Congress, Ryan proves no standard is too low among those with whom you agree -- and it can’t be high enough for those outside your ideological circle.

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