I can’t believe I’m really doing this. Maybe instead of calling it a defense Paul Ryan, I can call it a defense of reasoned debate. Awe, who am I kidding? Today, I’m defending Paul Ryan.
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday night that one of the main conditions under which he’d be willing to serve as House Speaker is that he continue to be able to spend time with his wife and three young children. “I cannot and will not give up my family time,” he said, “Janna and I have children who are in the formative, foundational years of their lives.”
But Ryan’s line in the sand drew attention Wednesday to his numerous votes against measures to ensure Americans can spend needed time with their families, and prompted charges of hypocrisy from his critics in the liberal blogosphere. “Paul Ryan Wants To Preserve His Work/Family Balance While Making It Harder For Poor Parents,”blared a headline on the liberal site ThinkProgress. “Paul Ryan, Opponent Of Paid Family Leave, Demands Congress Respect His Need For Family Time,”the feminist blog Jezebel said.
My issue with this, and the reason I must defend Paul Ryan (in this particular case), is that Ryan’s statements today are not at all inconsistent with his opposition to family leave legislation. This is really pretty simple: a person can ask for something as a condition of accepting a job without thinking that they (or anyone else) should be entitled to it.
Ryan was not saying that the Speaker of the House has a right to have family time. He was saying that he will only accept the job as Speaker if he can still spend time with his family, and he acknowledged that this might disqualify him as a candidate. If House Republicans demand a Speaker who works weekends they’re free to reject Ryan and go with some other white guy, and he seemed to welcome that outcome if his requirements were found to be unrealistic. This is a far cry from what the legislation that Ryan has opposed would mandate.
So what’s the point here? Is my defense of Paul Ryan an endorsement of his position on family leave? Actually, it’s an indictment of the type of reasoning that would reach that conclusion.
This isn’t about Paul Ryan as a politician or family leave as an issue. It’s about how the Left is just as responsible as the Right for the erosion of fair and intelligent political discourse. Both ends of the political spectrum are ready and willing to misrepresent the positions of those they disagree with in an effort to paint them in a negative light.
And pointing out a particular politician’s hypocrisy does nothing to substantiate any particular viewpoint. Even if Paul Ryan is a hypocrite, does that say anything about the merits of family leave legislation? In a legitimate debate you must attack the position, not the person who holds it.
Attacks like this are part of the reason that a lot of capable, intelligent, honest people shy away from a life in government. Who would want to subject themselves to such unfair scrutiny and mischaracterization? So in the end we’re stuck with politicians like Paul Ryan.