Cover Story

The quiet weapon

"The quiet weapon" Continued...

Issue: "GOP idea man," May 22, 2010

Ryan's willingness to stick his neck out over his philosophies can be traced to the tough life lessons he learned as a 16-year-old when he discovered his father dead from a heart attack in the family's home. He had to tell his mother and three siblings, who were out of town. "That taught me self-sufficiency," said Ryan, who afterwards began focusing more on academics and sports. "That taught me that when bad things happen, you can either sink or swim."

Growing up faster than most is one of the reasons he managed to get elected to Congress in his twenties. It is also why many of his colleagues think Ryan, whose thick dark hair holds little gray, can name his own political ceiling.

"He probably won't like me telling you this, but I really believe that he should seriously look at being a presidential candidate," Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican, told me. "I think he's our best guy out there right now because of the substance. Ryan has separated himself from the rest of the pack because he actually has these solutions."

But Ryan, raised a devout Roman Catholic, said being a good legislator is the third priority in his life.

"I don't want to have a career that comes at the expense of being a good dad and a good husband," he explains. He returns to his Janesville, Wis., home every weekend that Congress is in session. He worries what a higher office and all its travel demands would do to his young family.

"I don't want to be a lifer here, absolutely not. No way. I am young enough to have two careers. What this second one will be? I have no idea."

Soon after describing his love of the outdoors and how he shot two deer this season with his 8-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, Ryan is back discussing America, limited government, and the political class.

One gets the sense that he could debate big, bold pieces of legislation all night. In fact, on this evening he practically did-just not with me. Our interview ended as Ryan was running late for a dinner with Niall Ferguson, a Harvard economic historian and author of The Ascent of Money: The Financial History of the World.

Ryan hoped to have a "light" dinner discussion with Ferguson about debt and how great empires implode on themselves.

This after a day that began early with Ryan leading a dozen bipartisan House members in an intense video workout regime called P90X. It was also the day that Ryan attended the first meeting of the Obama debt reduction panel, of which he is a member.

Still, Ryan thinks picking the brain of an Ivy League professor is the perfect way to end a long day. "Any economist or historian I can learn from, I try to get a hold of," he said before heading out the door. "That is literally one of the coolest things about this job."

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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