Alan Zendell, May 26, 2017
Were I to write to House Speaker Paul Ryan, I could say everything I needed to in three words: “Grow a pair!”
But that wouldn’t be nice, and more to the point he might not get it. I used to have a lot of respect for the Speaker. Ask me two years ago, and I’d have said I disagreed with his conservative philosophy but I respected his integrity and intelligence. I’ve watched him closely as Donald Trump’s domination of the Republican became complete. I now wonder if I was wrong on both counts.
The Greg Gianforte incident will ultimately help me decide. Give Ryan credit for speaking out more directly than his Republican colleagues before the votes were counted in Montana. He said there was no circumstance under which violence by a politician against a reporter was acceptable and insisted that Gianforte apologize. That got my attention. It wasn’t the condemnation I wanted to hear, and it stopped short of suggesting that he wasn’t fit to be in Congress, but it leaned in the right direction.
Gianforte won the contested House seat, possibly because seventy percent of the votes had been cast by mail before the incident, and only after he won did he apologize. I listened carefully to the apology. He said he’d made a mistake and regretted an action he couldn’t take back, but he didn’t actually admit assaulting the reporter. That tells me the only thing sincere about the apology was Gianforte’s concern about his upcoming date in criminal court. An explicit public confession probably wouldn’t have impressed the judge much.
Ryan was faced with a dilemma. Would he stand his ground about the assault or would the so-called apology buy Gianforte a pass from the Speaker? Ryan decided, now that the election was over, to welcome Gianforte to the Republican caucus, and even went so far as to say he would bring a fresh approach that would be an asset. Fresh approach? Is Ryan planning hand-to-hand combat with the Democrats?
I think Ryan totally missed the point. The court hasn’t ruled yet, but Gianforte appears guiltier than O. J. Simpson did the day after the crime, and in this case there were several million witnesses. It’s hard to imagine the judge giving him a pass. What if he’s convicted and required to serve time in jail? What will Ryan do then? Perhaps a better question is what would the Speaker do if a sitting member of the House was convicted of assaulting a reporter honestly doing his job?
One might argue that misdemeanor assault isn’t a major crime, not as serious an offense, for example, as sexting with a minor. If the Member served his time, apologized, and behaved properly afterward, should all be forgiven? That would be the Christian thing to do, wouldn’t it? Except that that argument, too, completely misses the point.
Hillary Clinton gets it. In her commencement address at Wellesley College, she reminded everyone that condoning violence against the press in any form has always proved disastrous in the past, a sure step toward the destruction of democracy, and I think she got it exactly right. Given the president’s attempts to discredit the press and the rising tide of aggressively suppressing honest journalists attempting to do the job of keeping the American public informed, Gianforte’s actions take on far more significance than a typical, garden variety misdemeanor. It’s the stuff from which authoritarians have been built all through recorded history. It’s a blatant threat to our Constitution and Paul Ryan, who calls himself a defender of our founding documents needs to say so out loud.
So Mr. Speaker, I hate to be crude, but when the time comes, you need to censure Representative Gianforte and strongly urge him to resign his seat so the people of his district can vote with their eyes fully open. You really need to grow a pair and do the right thing.