In an age in which 24-hour cable news, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and talk radio have made the news cycle both incessant and insatiable, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)’s life — and his family’s — will never be the same now that Mitt Romney has chosen him to be his running mate.
The white-hot spotlight — and its glare — will be on him and his past, but Ryan seems grounded and steady enough to withstand the coming storm, mainly because of the two people who have influenced him the most — his late father and the late Jack Kemp. He is as focused on his physical well-being as he is about the country’s fiscal health because of the influences of his late dad and Kemp, respectively.
As a teenager, Ryan found his father dead of a heart attack in his bed, and this event transformed his life. His grandfather and great grandfather also died in their 50s. Aware of this, Ryan became invested in fitness and healthy eating (he swears off sweets such as birthday cakes given to him by staffers or friends) as preventative measures, so he would not meet the same fate as other males in his family.
Ryan is a devotee of the P90X exercise program, which he has discussed many times. He has routinely worked out with Democrats as well as Republicans, including former University of Tennessee and Washington Redskins quarterback — and North Carolina Democrat – Heath Shuler. Ryan is a hunter, fisherman, and general outdoorsman. In a year in which, due to the success of “The Hunger Games” series and the Olympics, archery has increased in popularity, Ryan is also a skilled bow hunter with considerable proficiency at archery. Ryan also likes to engage in noodling, a practice common in the South, where people catch catfish with their bare hands by sticking their arms into catfish holes.
After graduating from Miami University of Ohio (in Oxford, OH) in 1992, Ryan went on to work for Empower America, Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett’s think tank, from 1993 to 1995. Ryan also was Kemp’s speechwriter for a time and went on to become an aide for politicians such as Sam Brownback. Ryan has always expressed his gratitude that Kemp “took a chance” on him out of college.
During this time, Ryan, who is also a devoted Green Bay Packers football fan, worked as a waiter at Tortilla Coast, a popular restaurant frequented by Capitol Hill staffers. He also taught fitness classes at a local fitness club in D.C.
After Kemp encouraged him to run for Congress, Ryan, a Janesville, Wisconsin native, ran in Wisconsin’s first district in 1998 and won, becoming the youngest Congressman at the time, at 28.
Soon after, Ryan, a Roman-Catholic, was introduced to Janna Little, whose uncle is Dan Boren, the former Senator from Oklahoma who is now the president of the University of Oklahoma. They married when Ryan was 30 and Little was 31. In the wedding announcement, “Ryan is described as ‘an avid hunter and fisherman who does his own skinning and butchering and makes his own Polish sausage and bratwurst.'”
Ryan and his family (He is married to Janna and has a daughter Liza, 10, and two sons — Charles, 8, and Sam, 7.) live in Wisconsin. When Ryan is in D.C., he often sleeps in his office or at his sister-in-law’s house in Bethesda, Maryland. Ryan is low key, and often walks around the Capitol listening to his iPod and has been known for his approachability. He is a fan of Led Zeppelin.
Ryan’s wife’s first cousin is U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma.
Boren, the congressman, released a statement on Saturday supporting Ryan and his cousin, Janna.
“Paul has a firm moral compass and has always approached his job as a congressman with diligence and honesty,” Boren said in a statement. “Having many friends on both sides of the aisle, he is an effective and talented leader. Although we belong in different political parties, I see Paul as a friend, a fellow hunter, and most importantly a family man.”
The fact that his wife comes from a prominent Democratic family is fitting, because Ryan has been able to bring Democrats to his side.
Wisconsin’s first Congressional District, which Ryan represents, blends “rural communities with some of the state’s largest industrial areas” and the district’s two largest cities “are sandwiched between Milwaukee and Chicago.”
The economically diverse district combines union workers, blue collar workers, urbanites, and those in wealthy suburbs.
And Ryan has consistently received more votes than national Republicans in his district.
For instance, In 2008, Ryan won 64 percent of the vote in a year in which those in his district voted for Obama over McCain, 51% to 47%. In 2000 and 2004, his district voted for George Bush, giving him 51% and 53% of the vote, respectively. But Ryan received 65% and 67% of the vote, respectively, in those years. in 2010, he won 68 percent of the vote.
Ryan has made this competitive district into a safe one largely because of the lessons he learned from his mentor Kemp. He has applied those lessons to bring working class and moderate Democrats to his side while also appealing to a younger generation of voters. All of this helps the ticket this fall in places such as Virginia, North Carolina, and Colorado.
Fred Malek, an influential Republican power broker, said on Twitter, he has known Ryan “since he was an intern at Empower America,” and Ryan has a “great mind, molded by Jack Kemp and Bill Bennett.”
Malek (@FredVMalek), who was a dear friend of Kemp’s, also tweeted that Ryan is a “disciple of the late great Jack Kemp & molded in Kempian tradition of sunny optimism combined w/ determined fiscal discipline.”
“Jack is the reason I ran for Congress … he taught me how to approach people with infectious optimism and he reminds us that,” Ryan said. “Ronald Reagan motivated me, Jack Kemp inspired me.”
Just as he is obsessed about his personal health and fitness, so too is he obsessed about the budget.
One news account described Ryan as someone who “already had a passionate interest in the budget, joking in 2010 that it was ‘kind of weird’ that he had been ‘reading federal budgets since I was 22 years old. I know that’s kind of sick.'”
Ryan has worked with Democrats, like Oregon Senator Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), to reform Medicare. His “Roadmap” and budget, which passed the House, has drawn criticisms from Democrats unwilling to confront America’s fiscal crisis. Ryan is a fan of Ayn Rand’s books, but, as Breitbart News’ Warner Todd Huston noted, “Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) is clearly a fan of Ayn Rand in many ways,” but “he is not a Randian objectivist,” which the left falsely criticizes him for being.
Ryan’s argument has always been that, without reforms to the the country’s entitlements and tax code, the country will go broke, and America will not be able to afford even the flimsiest of safety nets. Entitlements need to be reformed in order be preserved, Ryan has argued.
That argument will be the central battle of this campaign. The debt is to this generation what communism was to Reagan’s and Kemp’s. And just as Ryan has spent a lifetime staying in shape, aware of the health problems his family faced, he has been on the front lines in trying to steer the country down a path of solvency and prosperity and has emerged as one of the GOP’s intellectual leaders.
In that sense, Ryan’s sound physical health may be the perfect symbol of what the country’s fiscal health could look like if the Romney-Ryan ticket is given a chance to devote the next decade to fixing the country’s economy and reducing its debt.