No, Paul Ryan Is Not A Hypocrite On Paid Leave

Posted: Oct 22, 2015 4:05 PM

Earlier this week a high-profile man said he'd only take a high-profile promotion if it didn't mean less time with his wife and children.

Obviously, this man is a monster.

At least, that's how some have decided to frame Rep. Paul Ryan's announcement that he would consider taking the Speaker of the House job if he could maintain his current work-life balance, whereby he already only spends weekends at home in Wisconsin. This request is hypocritical, they say, because as a lawmaker Ryan has opposed mandatory paid leave legislation.

The two issues may seem related at first blush. Journalists have happily accepted the correlation without much scrutiny. See the Politico headline, "Paul Ryan Prizes Family Time, Opposes Family Leave," wherein they are separated only by a comma.

But while this makes for a super-fun talking point for Democrats -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultzquickly tweeted out their condemnations of Ryan's so-called hypocrisy -- there's little if any connection at all between Ryan's demands and the issue of paid leave. I take that back -- there's really no connection at all.

Here's what actually happened. Paul Ryan was asked to take a job he does not want. At all. He is happy with his current job and the family time it affords him. In the current climate of division among the various Republican caucuses, this new job will be thankless and presumably terrible. And, if Ryan has any presidential ambitions, this job is almost always a politician's final resting place (save for the lone exception and everyone's favorite speaker-turned-president, James K. Polk).

But because he knows that House Republicans are desperate, Ryan has made the smart calculation that he can make some demands if he is to consider assuming this new role that he does not want.

This is what a job negotiation looks like between a person who has made himself invaluable and an employer in a bind. Ryan's boss -- in this case, House Republicans -- are free to refuse his requirements and consider another candidate for the job. Or they can decide that his demands are reasonable and that they are willing to meet them.

"Paid leave" as a political issue is not about the ability to negotiate the best scenario for you and your family, as Ryan is. Paid leave is a policy requiring all employers to offer a certain amount of arbitrarily decided paid time off to their employees.

If there's any relationship between paid leave and Ryan's situation, it's that he's demonstrated why a mandate should be an unattractive solution. He has just modeled a best-practices example of how issues like paid leave and workplace flexibility should be decided -- between an employer and an employee who can discuss their needs on an individual basis to find the best, mutually beneficial solutions. Many new mothers, for example, might enjoy six months paid leave but would actually prefer two months off and a year of working from home. An employee with a sick parent a few states away might benefit more from a month of telecommuting than 10 days paid leave. Government mandates remove that flexibility and the opportunity to find creative solutions that might be more attractive to both parties than the one-size-fits-all federal requirement.

But back to Paul Ryan's hypocrisy. This charge only makes sense if Ryan believed that he should enjoy more family time, but others should not. As Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan writes of Ryan's commitment to his family: "That's nice. If only believed that other Americans deserved the same."

Who says he doesn't? Like most people, Paul Ryan presumably wants every American to find work opportunities that accommodate family time. I'm certain he would applaud companies like Google, Citi, Merrill Lynch and Turner Broadcasting System (my employer), who voluntarily offer generous paid leave. What he is not in favor of is the government telling businesses they must.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave Ryan the Lean-In Award of the Day, writing, "We need work to work for parents -- and having leaders who weigh responsibilities as fathers as much as their responsibilities to their jobs shows all of us what is possible."

This is not about the politics of paid leave. This is about a prominent, successful man who is putting family first. For that, Paul Ryan should be commended, not condemned.