My interview with Paul Ryan today was brief and interrupted cell phone failure, but interesting nonetheless. The transcript will be posted below later this evening.
Because biography is character and character often matters much more to voters than policy prescriptions, I chose to focus on Ryan’s youth, which included stints in McDonald’s, working corn fields and painting houses. (The Dominican nuns who had him in elemtary school are retired now but I expect someone from MSNBC is lurking around the Chapter House.) Ryan lost his dad at 16, and had his grandmother move in with he and his mom when she developed Alzheimer’s, so his isn’t a story of idyllic childhood, but Ryan’s genuine likeability is rooted in this small town American upbringing.
I was also surprised to hear Ryan has run a sub-3 hour marathon. Add another interest group to the list of groups like Catholics, hunters and Miami of Ohio grads who are going to connect easily with this candidate.
There are lots of details yet to be added to Ryan’s public portrait, but the campaign has to make him available to the media to get that story told. Both Romney and Ryan are their best salesmen, so putting them out more into settings where they can tell their stories and not just detail their policies is key to continuing the momentum they clearly have.
HH: Pleased to welcome now the next vice president of the United States, Paul Ryan. Congressman, welcome back and congratulations.
PR: Hey, thanks, Hugh, good to be with you. How have you been?
HH: I have been terrific, and I hope you’re having a good time at this. Let me dive in. I know your time is limited. I was just talking with the audience about the networks’ decision not to carry even a minute of the opening night of the Republican National Convention. What do you make of that?
PR: You know, I didn’t know that until you just now said that. The way I’ve always looked at this is we can’t expect the media to amplify our message clearly. We have to get it out ourselves, and through alternative means like your show. So I think it’s disappointing, it’s unfortunate, but you know, I can’t say it’s a huge surprise, because that’s just par for the course. As a conservative, I’m kind of used to that sort of treatment.
HH: All right, Congressman, a lot of people care about policy, but I’m more interested in biography. You’ve been on the program a number of times, and we’ll have you back and talk policy, but since you’re going to be the nominee, let’s do a little biography.
HH: Tell us about your family growing up in Janesville.
PR: Well, I’m just from a fairly typical middle income family. My dad was a small town lawyer in Janesville, my mom stayed at home. I’ve got an older sister and two older brothers. My dad died when I was pretty young, in high school when I was 16. My mom then went back to school, learned a trade, and then started a small business and had three or four employees. My grandmother moved in with us at the time. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s. So you know, I kind of grew up a little faster than most young people did, I guess. I became very intellectually curious. That’s what got me into studying economics. So I spent a lot of time as a young guy studying economics. My goal in life was to, you know, the University of Chicago and get my PhD and be an economist, was what I sort of thought I was going to do. And I ended up working in D.C. for some conservatives, for some think tanks. Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett were my two big mentors who I worked for, and that got me involved in public policy and public service. I went back home to Janesville and ran for an open seat when I was pretty young, 28 years old, and I’ve served in Congress since then. I’ve chaired the Budget Committee. You know me, so you know I’m a conservative. I believe in pro-growth economics, limited government, the founding principles, the Constitution, and I’ve been putting ideas out there over the years how to get this country on the right track.
HH: That’s why I think…
PR: And that sort of…
HH: That’s why I think people are so excited about your candidacy is you’re an ideas guy. But did you go to parochial school?
PR: Yeah, I went to Catholic school from first through eighth grade, and then I went to public school after that.
HH: Now which, what was the name of the parochial school in Janesville?
PR: St. Mary’s Catholic School.
HH: And did you play youth sports?
PR: Yeah, of course. I played basketball, soccer, track, all correct.
HH: And what was your first job?
PR: Well, you can get a job as a very young kid in Wisconsin in detasseling corn. So for people not in the Midwest, what that means is you walk down a corn row, and you snap the tassels off the corn to help pollinate the corn. I had a lot of landscaping jobs, a lot of lawn mowing jobs. I worked at McDonald’s, waited tables, was a fitness trainer, sold meat for Oscar Meyer, I had a lot…I painted houses, lots of different jobs.
HH: You worked at McDonald’s?
PR: Yeah, I was, you know, a funny story is the manager said I didn’t have the social skills to work the front, so he put me on the quarter pounder grill.
PR: So now I’m in Congress, I say. It’s kind of funny.
HH: Now I want you to help the media out. Which of your teachers from elementary or high school do you want the media to find, and which ones do you not want them to find?
PR: Mostly I had nuns, and I was scared to death of them back then. So you know, they’re at a retirement center, a few of them, in Wisconsin. They’re Dominicans. And you know…
HH: We lost you there, Congressman. Are you still with us? Go ahead. Oh, we’re losing him there…Congressman, we lost you there.
PR: Sorry about that.
HH: That’s okay. Hey, in high school, what did you do in high school? Were you a speech and debate guy? Were you a bandie? What were you?
PR: No, I was student government and athletics, honor society, you know, that kind of thing. I was kind of a combination. I was class president my junior year, I was the school board rep my senior year. I lettered in varsity, you know, my first year in high school, mostly soccer and track. I was a distance runner and a soccer player. So kind of well-rounded. I can’t, I can play a cowbell. That’s about it for instruments.
HH: Are you still running?
PR: Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or yes.
HH: But you did run marathons at some point?
PR: Yeah, but I can’t do it anymore, because my back is just not that great.
HH: I’ve just gotta ask, what’s your personal best?
PR: Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.
HH: Holy smokes. All right, now you go down to Miami University…
PR: I was fast when I was younger, yeah.
HH: I got so much email when I referred to it as Miami University of Ohio, and you know, I’ve got ties to Miami University, but they wanted me to call it The Miami University. You’re Delta Tau Delta, right?
PR: Right, right.
HH: All right, now I spent a few nights in the rack room at the Pike House in the 70s, and you guys had some fun at Miami. Do we have to worry about any stories coming out of Oxford?
PR: No, no, normal clean-cut college fun. You know, the rack room that I had slept in is about, I don’t know, you could hit it with a hard ball from the Pike rack room. It’s maybe a hundred yards.
PR: So pretty close.
HH: Now the media’s going to try and trip you up on the big change from Redskins to Redhawks, and they’re going to try and get you to say something politically incorrect. What are you going to say about that?
PR: The school made its own choice. I was there, and it was the Miami Redskins when I was there, and now it’s the Miami Redhawks.
HH: Okay, that’s a great answer. Stick with that. Last question, you know, Bennett can’t get through an hour without mentioning he is your mentor. I want five bucks for every time Bill Bennett takes credit for you.
HH: So tell us about the salt mine he ran at Empower America, but more importantly, about the ideas there, and what that gave to you working for that kind of place at that kind of time.
PR: That was a very formative stage of my life. You know, working in the conservative movement for the likes of Bill Bennett, Jack Kemp and Jean Kirkpatrick, I was the economics guy. And so I staffed Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett on any economics issue, whether it was tax reform, monetary policy, sound money. That was where I really honed a lot of my views, and where I got acquainted with just really the policy reformers of our time in the conservative movement. And it was what got me into public policy. You know, Jack Kemp had this sort of infectious enthusiasm, and I had planned on doing this for a little while, then I wanted to be an economist. That was my plan in life. But what Jack sort of brought me into was this notion that at a young age, you can make a big difference. The battle of ideas is worth fighting. This country is so unique and exceptional, and it just really sparked, it triggered a spark in me, which is what basically caused me to change my sort of path I had planned for myself in life and get involved in public policy and public service. And that’s what I’ve done. And I’m a big ideas guy. I believe in the battle of ideas. I believe in liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by the consent of the governed, all those founding principles. Our rights come from nature and God, not government.
HH: Well, keep fighting for those, Congressman. Come back early and often. My view is the more you talk, the better off this country’s going to be, and the more Republicans are going to win. Thank you, Chairman Paul Ryan for joining us. Look forward to your nomination. See you, I hope, in Tampa Bay.
End of interview.