Paul Ryan. You don’t get a name much more Irish than that. And by all accounts Ryan could be the kind of guy you’d have a pint with, go to Croke Park with – he’s a young guy proud of his Irish roots. His great-great-grandfather emigrated to America, with hundreds of thousands of others, to avoid the Irish Famine.
Or the Irish Great Hunger, to be more exact. Because it wasn’t just the failure of the potato crop that led to mass starvation. It was deliberate policy. Charles Trevelyan, the British official in charge of famine relief, decided that “the cankerworm of government dependency” was a bad thing, and so starving people were required to pay for their food rather than be given it. The consequences were drastic – people died in their tens of thousands, fled abroad on the coffin ships.
So a guy whose ancestors survived all that has to be given respect, right? And we Irish can have a sense of vicarious pride that one of our own, so to say, may be a heart-beat away from the presidency. I mean, he’s one of us, right?
Well he may be one of you but I want no part of him. Remember Trevelyan’s “cankerworm of government dependency”? Well, it fits right in to Ryan’s thinking. He’s completely opposed to Obama’s Medicare bill, which would see to it that Americans were covered if they fell sick. For Ryan, it’s a question of "not lulling able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency, which drains them of their very will and incentive to make the most of their lives”. In other words, no government hand-outs to a lot of able-bodied beggars.
Of course, Americans have been encouraged to think that way, and lots of them do. Ryan is very fond of Ayn Rand, whose novels laud market forces and the strong leader rather than compassion and democracy. Likewise Sir Randoph Routh, who was in charge of the Irish Relief Commission in the nineteenth century, greeted representatives from Mayo, where people were dying in their thousands, by passing them a copy of Edmund Burke’s ‘Details of Society’ pamphlet. It explained why it was better to allow the market to distribute food rather than governments.
It is always good to see an Irish person succeed, at home or abroad. And getting so close to the US presidency is no mean feat. But we’d be very stupid if we allowed our nationalist pride to blind us to the kind of man Paul Ryan is. He would have fitted into British government policy for nineteenth-century Ireland with consummate ease.