San Jose Mercury News: Ryan’s turn to herd cats (or is it lions?)

Now it’s Paul Ryan’s turn to herd the 434 cats with whom he shares the U.S. House of Representatives — including the den of testy lions in the tea party wing.

We hope, for the country’s sake, he has better luck as House speaker than his predecessor, John Boehner.

Not to disparage Boehner. The longer he held the position, the more we respected him for trying to get things done in a divisive — poisonous, really — atmosphere. A house divided sharply along partisan lines is tough enough for a speaker to manage, but Boehner also faced deep rifts inside his own majority party that he could not bridge.

Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012, was comfortably elected the 62nd speaker of the House on Thursday. At 45, he’s the youngest in the post since 1869.

As he takes over, Ryan might want to study the mathematical discipline known as chaos theory, pioneered by brilliant French thinker Henri Poincare around the turn of the 20th century.

As Poincare fashioned it, chaos theory refers to an apparent lack of order in a system that nevertheless obeys particular laws while exhibiting an inherent lack of predictability. Sounds like the House to us. Particularly on the Republican side of the aisle.

Much like Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, Boehner left the speaker’s chair because he could not handle the most conservative segment of his majority. Known now as the Freedom Caucus, this group is the latest of many throughout American history to argue that the speaker has too much power. Members want more say in what they see as important decisions.

Ryan, who has often voted with the caucus, will make at least nominal procedural changes to accommodate that wish. But the price for them will be solidarity on issues that Ryan considers vital. We’ll see how that works, too.

Boehner gave him a gift by negotiating a bipartisan $80 billion budget deal as his final major act. That will give Ryan a little time to find his management legs. He needs to work effectively not only with the Freedom Caucus but also with Democrats to address some critical national issues.

Ryan is very conservative, but we don’t believe he wants his name on another government shutdown or a debt default that would send the U.S. economy into a tailspin. So we’re hopeful. We don’t believe compromise is a dirty word — and neither should the speaker of the House.

San Jose Mercury News