By: AIF Staff
Washington, DC – Last week, former Speaker of the House and President of the American Idea Foundation, Paul Ryan talked with Tom Donilon, Chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute and former Obama Administration National Security Advisor, as part of the 2020 BlackRock Future Forum. In a panel discussion entitled: “Governing and Policy in 2020 and Beyond,” the two conversed about a number of pressing policy topics including how to expand economic opportunities following the COVID-19 pandemic, how to address the national debt in a bipartisan way, and how to reduce polarization through more robust civil discourse.
Excerpts of Speaker Ryan’s comments, which have been slightly edited for clarity, follow.
On Addressing Systemic Racism and Economic Inequities:
“First, I think of the George Floyd murder, and I use that word carefully, I think it opened a lot of eyes in America. I think a lot of scales fell from people’s eyes and I think that they saw this needs to be looked at in a way that opens the hearts and minds of people who have never thought of these things before, so that we really can empathize with minorities who did and who do face systemic discrimination. This, first of all, needs to be acknowledged and then something’s got to be done about it.
“I do believe that leading with the [right] kind of tone and the [right] words matters. “Black Lives Matter” are true words. No one should be worried about saying that these words are true and then, we can have hopefully an honest and reasonable debate about what to do about it.
“Should we defund the police? No, I don’t think we should defund the police, but should we work on making equality of opportunity policies more in reach for other people? Yes. Look, I have gone through the opportunity zone legislation, I authored the criminal justice reform bill, and I think there are a lot of things like that that can be done to speak to the concerns of people who feel like the American Dream is just not there for them, that they’ve been excluded from it.
“I really believe that this moment is a moment that calls for empathy, understanding, listening, and then innovative policies because people’s minds really are open to these problems and addressing these injustices that are baked into the system, that have been part and parcel of the American system, that a lot of people see. I really do think we can go after the root causes.
“One of the things I work on at Notre Dame and at the American Idea Foundation is trying to go at the root causes of poverty, the root cause of the lack of economic mobility. There are so many things I think we can do as a country, on a bipartisan basis, to address these inconsistencies and these inequities.”
On the Federal Government’s Response to COVID-19:
“On the economic front, I think [it] was a pretty impressive response. Frankly, globally speaking, you saw central banks around the world pumping liquidity into the system and I do think that the cooperation by my former colleagues in Congress with what we call “Phase 1” through “Phase 3.5” was really pretty impressive…. You had a very impressive economic response and I think that really helped bolster the economy and brought the bottom up from where it would otherwise have been. As a result, whether it is the Congressional Budget Office or the Federal Reserve, they are forecasting some pretty positive economic growth in Q3.
“The health response, I think, is a little more mixed. You have federalism here in America, so you’re going to have different responses and some states did better than others. Densely populated areas obviously fared worse than other [areas] but I think all along, we did not [yet] overwhelm our healthcare system and we did not have the overcrowding in our health care system that we feared.
“What I regret in all of this is how COVID-19 has become kind of partisan, how the necessary social distancing and the protocols that we need to operate in society have unfortunately become partisan, and I worry about that as the summer continues and as the fall resumes before we actually have a vaccine.”
On Reforming & Strengthening Social Safety Programs:
“My biggest concern, under whomever becomes president, is fiscal policy and our entitlements, which are unsustainable. They’re on an unsustainable path. It’s not too late to fix them on our own, in a way that fulfills each of their missions, but if we keep kicking the can down the road as both presidents and both parties have done, then I really do worry that our monetary policy and our fiscal policy are on a collision course with one another. And the next president is going to have to deal with that.”
On Reducing Polarization & Encouraging Discourse:
“I did 20 years in Congress from 1998 until 2019 and in that arc of time, I saw an enormous transformation of our politics and it coincided obviously with the internet, digital, data, and the rest. And in the old days, like 10 years ago, the way you measured success in politics was really what I would call a “meritocracy,” where success was measured by persuasion and legislation. [Success was measured] by could you create innovative policies that solve the problems of the day and persuade people: your constituents, your colleagues, and the country, with the way to go and that was sort of how you measured success in politics.
“In this day and age, I think success in politics is measured more on the right and the left right by provocation so we now have what I would call, in both parties frankly, the “entertainment wings” of our parties, where people look at this as why do the long slog of spending 10 and 20 years in Congress, proving yourself through a meritocracy, when you can leapfrog that entire meritocracy if you are good on Twitter, on Facebook, on digital, and if you can really be entertaining on cable television, you can immediately leapfrog that entire meritocracy and become a national player overnight. I can think of episodes on both sides of the aisle where people did that but what that does require though is fragmentation and polarization.
“And so, you get to the point where a lot of people are looking over their right shoulder if they’re a Republican or if they’re a Democrat, they’re looking over their left shoulder worried about a primary. And so, they’re focused on staying in their partisan lane and entertaining, so my worry is we now have entertainment politics, which is really by design extremely partisan. You can monetize it, you have whole websites, you have whole entertainment venues that make money off of this polarization, so what is the antidote to that?
“What do I tell students at Notre Dame as you run into this problem? You have to get more involved, not impugn people’s motives, don’t question their character, understand where they’re coming from, and have a civil debate. I think the best alternative and the best antidote to this is to do everything we can to revitalize civil society, that space between ourselves and our government, where we occupy our lives and where we put the phone and TV down and go actually interact with other people, and get out of your comfort zone and spend time with people who are not like you or who don’t think like you, who don’t look like you, and don’t live near where you live. To me, the more you can get society to integrate itself through a civil society is the best way to try and heal our politics so that we can have common ground, so that we can have a politics of mutual understanding and room for a civil debate.”