Paul Ryan gave himself a most charitable read during an interview with the Washington Post last week, as he evaluated his three-year tenure as Speaker of the House.
New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted that Ryan, along with his interviewer, maintained his facade to the end, painting the Speaker as “a wonk-statesman, a little too good and pure for the ugly world of politics, who pointed the way toward a brighter and more responsible future and of whom it could be said, at the very worst, failed only to achieve the ideals for which he strived.”
But Ryan is most certainly one of the worst Speakers of the House in U.S. history.
If Paul Ryan isn’t the worst House speaker in living memory, that might be because he only got to do it for three years. Mind you, the competition for that title is stiff, considering that the list includes a convicted child molester (Denny Hastert) and the vainglorious and self-destructive Newt Gingrich. But Ryan merits a special award for failure when you consider his inflated reputation for political genius, his built-in advantages — Republican majorities in both houses throughout his tenure, a Republican president for two-thirds of it — and his record of accomplishing virtually nothing.
In fact, to say that Ryan accomplished nothing with the speakership is to give him either too much credit or not enough. He damn near wrecked the place, but because he possesses a genial manner, a furrowed brow and a vague air of disapproval about Donald Trump’s most egregious racist outbursts, he was halfway understood not to be the problem. Ryan’s major legislative “achievements” were an Obamacare repeal bill that failed in the Senate and a tax giveaway to the rich that was supposed to be a political bonanza but became poisonous instead. Taken together, those things further damaged an already broken health care system, blew up the already engorged deficit and led his party to a historic and richly deserved drubbing in the 2018 midterms, which now appear to have been the biggest Democratic win since Watergate.
He’s a second-rate grifter who came up short and got pimped out by a much better one. Now that his street value is down to nothing, he's being driven out of town with an empty suitcase and his last suit of clothes. That’s metaphorical, of course; you can always fail upwards on the American right, and no doubt Ryan will be richly rewarded for espousing policies he no longer believes in and have been proven not to work.