Paul Ryan wants a nicer GOP. In remarks today that served as an extended subtweet to Donald Trump, the House Speaker struck a conciliatory tone, calling on Republicans to be the party of compassion. “People with different ideas are not traitors,” Ryan said. “They are not our enemies. They are our neighbors, our coworkers, our fellow citizens.”
Most notably, Ryan apologized for his past comments that divided the electorate into an elite class of makers (essentially: job-creators who pay federal income taxes) and a separate underclass of takers (those who don’t owe federal income taxes, because they don’t have much income to tax). “‘Takers’ wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family,” he said. “Most people don't want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong. I shouldn’t castigate a large group of Americans to make a point.”
This was a wow moment, as forthright apologies are all too rare in modern politics. In fact, it is one of many wow moments, as Ryan has been confessing this rhetorical sin and seeking forgiveness for the last two years.
But his penance has not been matched by a broader effort to change the substance beneath the words. Ryan has long been the intellectual torchbearer of a public policy that would immediately hurt the same people he has decided to stop calling “takers.” For years, he has put forth a budget that would provide the largest tax cuts in history for the wealthy while gutting income support and health care assistance for the middle-class and poor.