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The Heart of Paul Ryan

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Mitt Romney showed he's reaching not just for a win, but for a mandate.

The elevation of Rep. Paul Ryan is a game changer because it is a conversation changer. His selection as veep nominee puts front and center the need to reign in the spending of a government that borrows 40 cents from China for every dollar it spends.


But, to me, the most interesting thing about Ryan is the story of his hometown -- Janesville, Wisc. In Janesville lies Paul Ryan's beating heart.

Filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein spent nine hours filming Ryan as part of a documentary, "As Goes Janesville," that will be aired on PBS the night before the election. But Ryan clips did not make the final cut. So now Lichtenstein is releasing them sequentially in two-minute sound bites on his Web page at

For Ryan, who fell in love as a teenager with Ayn Rand's novels, his lifelong task has been to reconcile community and capitalism.

On Lichtenstein's camera, Ryan tells us how he does that.

The story begins with his great-great-grandfather James Ryan, who came over during the Potato Famine. "They stopped growing potatoes in Ireland, or the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland. ... James came over from Ireland, I think he came to Boston, worked the railroad in order to get enough money to buy the farm." Winter came as a rude shock, but James Ryan decided to stick it out and make a go of it.

The next link in the Ryan saga is James Ryan's son, P.W. Ryan, who started a railroad embankment firm using horse plows. "That was the beginning of Ryan Inc., which is a family excavating firm which my cousins now run. That's fourth generation. And so our family has been there ever since. I think last time I counted, I have 67 cousins in Janesville, and we all live within about four or five blocks of each other."


This is indeed an Irish clan, but a little different from the Kennedy model.

"So what's neat about my particular family," Ryan says, "is a lot of us in my generation have gone away to school, gone away to work in big cities in the East and West Coast and so many of my siblings and my cousins have all come back to Janesville. ... You know why? Because it's a great place to raise a family; it's a wonderful place to grow up; it's a wonderful place to live.

So many young Ryans tasted London and Los Angeles, New York and Washington -- and they ended up back in Janesville together.

What makes that possible? For Ryan, it is capitalism and the freedom it provides to innovate and to own that makes his family and his community possible.

"The question is can more and more people do things like that if we have the economy that allows that to happen?" he asks.

In another segment (, Ryan explains what makes him tick:

"There are three things about my job that get me going. ... One, you can help people with specific problems in their lives ... at a very tough time in their lives. That's really rewarding. That's constituent service."

The next thing Ryan says is very telling: He loves to put ideas into legislation that make people's lives better. "That's the second great thing about this job."

But then he gets his Irish up and admits that a good intellectual donnybrook is, well, fun for him. "The third great thing about this job is just basically ideas. I love ideas, I love good ideas, I love the competition of ideas, I love debating ideas -- and in my mind, in what I do, it's about ideas that make life better for people."


He goes on: "What I see myself doing is engaged in a defense of the ideas that built this country. ... That is exciting to me. That's why I do what I do."

Most politicians are people driven, not idea driven. Ryan is the exception who understands that foundational ideas are, for better or for worse, powerful. They affect real people's lives. President Obama is another exception. By tapping Ryan, Mitt Romney has now shown he understands this too.

As Paul Ryan told Fox News, "We owe the country a clear choice and different solutions."

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