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Speaker Paul Ryan: We can make this another great century

December 23, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, who is leaving Congress next month, , delivered a farewell address at the Library of Congress last week. Below are excerpts from his address:

WASHINGTON — Three years ago, when we last gathered in this hall, we began a great journey: To set our nation on a better path. To move our economy from stagnation to growth. To restore our military might.

And we have kept our promises. ... We have taken on some of the biggest challenges of our time, and made a great and lasting difference in the trajectory of this country. ...

Certainly one Congress cannot solve all that ails us. Not every outcome has been perfect.

But that is our great system at work. And I am proud of what we have achieved together to make this a stronger and more prosperous country. ...

I leave here as convinced as I was at the start that we face no challenge which cannot be overcome by putting pen to paper on sound policy. By addressing head-on the problems of the day.

The state of politics these days, though, is another question, and frankly one I don’t have an answer for. ...

Today, too often, genuine disagreement quickly gives way to intense distrust. We spend far too much time trying to convict one another than we do developing our own convictions.

Being against something has more currency than being for anything. Each of us has found ourselves operating on the wrong side of this equation from time to time.

All of this gets amplified by technology, with an incentive structure that preys on people’s fears, and algorithms that play on anger. Outrage is a brand. And, as with anything that gets marketed, it gets scaled up. It becomes more industrialized, more cold, and more unfeeling.

That’s the thing. For all the noise, there is actually less passion, less energy. We default to lazy litmus tests and shopworn denunciations. It is just emotional pabulum fed from a trough of outrage.

It is exhausting. It saps meaning from our politics. And it discourages good people from pursuing public service. The symptoms of it are in our face all the time. And we have to recognize that its roots run deep, into our society and our culture today.

All of this pulls on the threads of our common humanity, in what could be our unraveling.

But nothing — nothing says it has to be this way. We all struggle. We are all fighting some battle in our lives. So why do we insist on fighting one another so bitterly?

This kind of politics starts from a place of outrage and seeks to tear us down from there. So how do we get back to aspiration and inclusion, where we start with humility, and seek to build on that?

I don’t know the answer to that. What I offer today instead is something to keep in mind as we all try to navigate through the moment. Our culture is meant to be shaped not by our political institutions, but by the mediating institutions of civil society, of the community.

These are the places where we come together with people of different backgrounds — churches, charities, teams, PTA meetings. It is where we build up our social capital, that currency which keeps us rooted to where we live, and how we live with one another.

Rediscovering that human connection is one lane on the road back to aspiration and inclusion as the guiding influences in public life. ...

As I look ahead to the future, this much I know: Our complex problems are solvable. That is to say, our problems are solvable if our politics will allow it. ...

I believe firmly that solving our poverty challenges once and for all will require not just a great undertaking, but a great rethinking of how we help the most vulnerable among us. It begins with realizing that the best results come from within communities, where solutions are tailored and targeted for people’s needs. This battle will be won soul-to-soul and eye-to-eye.

We have great advocates for welfare reform in our party. But I challenge my party here: Do not let this issue drift from your consciousness. Every life matters, and every person deserves the chance to succeed. Let us keep advancing ideas to allow people to live lives of self-determination. ...

I believe that we can be the generation that saves our entitlement programs. And frankly we will need to be. I acknowledge plainly that my ambitions for entitlement reform have outpaced the political reality, and I consider this our greatest unfinished business.

We all know what needs to be done. Strong economic growth, which we have now, and entitlement reform, to address the long-term drivers of our debt. ...

Ultimately, solving this problem will require a greater degree of political will than exists today. I regret that. But when the time comes to do this, and it will, it will be based on the framework we have laid out to solve this problem. ...

If we do these three things — make progress on poverty, fix our immigration system, confront this debt crisis — we can make this another great century for our country.

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