House Speaker Paul Ryan just endorsed Donald Trump, and some people are surprised. Why? Why would anyone be surprised when Mr. Ryan changes his position to support a candidate like Mr. Trump? You don't rise to the level of Speaker of the House by being hidebound to your personal ethics. You do so by being flexible enough to justify your changes ex-post facto.
Some may remember his claim that Ayn Rand was the most influential thinker in his decision to go into politics. Then when the misanthrope Ms. Rand became persona non grata in the press, he quickly switched to St. Thomas Aquinas. It only took about a week for this significant transformation to occur.
Please be assured I'm not singling Mr. Ryan out for criticism. He's a politician and a successful one at that. He's just more obvious because of his elevated status. I'm afraid his quick-change expertise is just an example of business as usual in our political system.
The deeper question is why. Why is it de rigueur in U.S. politics?
I think it has something to do with the difference between being leaders and being followers. Leaders point the way. It may be unpopular. It may be painful. It may seem like the wrong way to go, but a real leader has done the homework and knows it's right for the country.
Followers, on the other hand, find a parade, ascertain its direction, make a big fuss about publically pointing in the direction the parade is already going and then runs out to get in front of the parade.
Some people call it populism. Some call it pandering. Some hold it in contempt. I just see it as a point on a downward trajectory of a nation. Particularly a nation with a failing educational system that turns out people who wouldn't know a critical thought if it bit them in the hindquarters.
Here're some facts to contemplate. I point them out because these are the folks determining the direction of the parade our politicians are leading.
The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs civic education poll among public school students: 77% didn't know that George Washington was the first President; couldn't name Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence; and only 2.8% of the students actually passed the citizenship test. Along similar lines, the Goldwater Institute of Phoenix did the same survey, and only 3.5% of students passed the civics test;
68% of public school children in the U.S. do not read proficiently when they finish third grade. Barely 50% of students are ready for college-level reading when they graduate;
More than 40% of Americans under 44 did not read a single book over the course of a year. The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required by school) has doubled between 1984-2004;
I know. I sound like an elitist. Well, I'm in good company. One the greatest concerns of the founders of this country was the potential of populist fervor to misdirect the country's government. To wit, here's a quote from Alexander Hamilton's contributions to the Federalist Papers, "It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."
Please remember the creation of our Senate was based on the House of Lords in England and designed to keep a lid on the populist passions that might arise out of the House of Commons, the House of Representatives in our case.
Well, all that said, Mr. Trump is the apparent Republican candidate that populism created. Mr. Ryan is just doing what politicians do. Where are all the people quoting the Founders to justify their personal agendas when it's convenient to do so?