- Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke to interns on Capitol Hill Wednesday
- “I was an intern, once upon a time,” he said
- The Republican said it is time to return to civility
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has a message for the nation’s politically minded youth: strive for civility and never forget what first sparked their interest in politics.
Ryan delivered a speech to Republican and Democratic interns on Capitol Hill Wednesday in which he urged them to find common ground with those across the aisle, engage in debates based on substance, eschew the dangers of social media and work to “take the oxygen out of tribalism and identity politics.”
The speaker kicked off the speech with a story about how he first got to Washington. (RELATED: Watch Paul Ryan Announce His Retirement)
“I was an intern, once upon a time. I started out in the mailroom in Russell on the Senate side. Eventually I figured out that the House side was a lot better. In between, I spent most nights waiting tables over at Tortilla Coast. At closing time, I would grab a bottle of Pacifico and hang out with the busboys,” Ryan told the group. “These days, when my shift ends, it might be a Miller Lite with a colleague, followed by a call with my family. But in many respects, not much has changed for me.”
Ryan said one of the most difficult things about living in Washington is staying true to what brought one to the city in the first place, arguing it can be a real challenge to keep “faith in the future” while watching a political environment that thrives on partisanship.
“We no longer see our opponents as ‘the other side,’ but simply as ‘the others,’ as targets. As someone not fundamentally like us. The more politics preys on our divisions, the more we become defined by them,” Ryan said Wednesday. “It leads to a view of life and society as a zero-sum game where one group has to win at the expense of the other.”
“Civility is a civic imperative. A healthy discourse allows us to navigate our disagreements in the search for common ground. To accept good ideas, even if our side didn’t come up with them,” Ryan added later.
The advice, he says, came from none other than former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. (RELATED: GOP Releases New 2018 Campaign Video)
“The first, maybe best, advice I ever received here came, believe it or not, from a liberal Massachusetts Democrat. During my freshman orientation, I had breakfast with Barney Frank,” Ryan said. “He told me that what he loved about the House is how it is a genuine meritocracy. You get ahead based on the power of your ideas, and your ability to make a persuasive case for them. These days, we don’t even really set out to persuade anymore. We just hit each over the head until the music stops.”
Ryan, notably, did not mention President Donald Trump by name or in direct reference. Trump is routinely criticized on both sides of the aisle for his lack of civility on Twitter and in public exchanges with the press.
Bringing the level of discourse back to what Ryan deems a civil nature will take community building, he argues. It will take rebuilding the community institutions that once brought people together and helped facilitate debate.
“One big thing we can do to rediscover our common humanity is to strengthen the very institutions that promote togetherness and connect us to one another,” Ryan said. “We call these the mediating institutions in civil society. But it’s all really just a way of describing the community. It’s the churches and charities, the PTAs and Little Leagues, the food banks and shelters. Think of how you have come to know different people, and how you have benefited from their perspective. That is the value of mediating institutions, and civil society.”
Ryan ended the speech with a sort of call to action, asking the young people to return home to their colleges and communities with a sense of purpose in bringing back civil discourse.
“As you go back to your campuses and communities, think about ways you can engage people more, on policy and the problems of the day. Start there. Take that first step. Think about how you can apply what you’ve learned here,” Ryan said. “Remember, we don’t have to be trapped by cynicism. We don’t have to lower our sights. We should always raise our gaze.”
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