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Paul Ryan: The only congressional leader to drive the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile

Brad KnickerbockerThe Christian Science Monitor

Like all politicians, Paul Ryan is a lot more interesting – and a lot more complicated – than any superficial image based on what he’s said (or others have said about him) regarding one or two issues.

Yes, the young (42) congressman and now Republican vice presidential nominee is a budget hawk who thrills conservatives and annoys liberals. When the GOP regained control of the US House in 2010, he became chairman of the Budget Committee – a principal player in the fierce struggle between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration over how to handle federal deficits, national debt, and economic recovery.

But he’s also declined to become part of his party’s leadership in the House – mainly, he told Time in 2010, because “I don’t want to spend my weekends flying around the country campaigning and raising money.”

“I want to spend my weekends at home with my little ones,” he said, noting too that “I like policy over politics” (confirming the wonkishness for which he’s known).

This importance of family no doubt is tied to the fact that his father died when Ryan was just 16 years old – one reason he stresses the importance of physical fitness.

Ryan, reports Time, “is a health freak who runs daily grueling P90X classes for members and staff at the congressional gym. He was voted biggest ‘gym rat’ by an anonymous poll of congressional staffers by the Washingtonian magazine in 2010.” Ryan and his wife Janna have three children, two boys and a girl ages seven, eight, and nine. Mrs. Ryan, a tax attorney with degrees from Wellesley College and George Washington University Law School, comes with a political pedigree of sorts: She’s the niece of former US Sen. David Boren (D) of Oklahoma and first cousins with US Rep. Dan Boren, also an Oklahoma Democrat.

Rep. Boren’s comment on Ryan’s being named to the GOP ticket reflects what many of both parties on Capitol Hill think of the Wisconsin Republican.

“Paul has a firm moral compass and has always approached his job as a congressman with diligence and honesty,” Mr. Boren said. “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.”

Like a lot of young conservatives, Paul Ryan was attracted to the works of the controversial writer and philosopher Ayn Rand – so much so that he gave Christmas gifts of “Atlas Shrugged” to staffers.

“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” he told a group promoting Rand’s works in 2005. “And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”

But as he became more politically prominent – perhaps in an attempt to reset his public image – he claimed to reject Ms. Rand’s world view, which seemed in important ways antithetical to his own strong Roman Catholic faith.

“I reject her philosophy,” told the National Review this year. “It’s an atheist philosophy. It reduces human interactions down to mere contracts and it is antithetical to my worldview. If somebody is going to try to paste a person’s view on epistemology to me, then give me Thomas Aquinas…. Don’t give me Ayn Rand.”

In any case, since graduating from Miami University in Ohio in 1992 (where he double-majored in economics and political science) Ryan has spent virtually his whole post-graduate life in politics.

In Washington, he worked for former US Sen. Bob Kasten (R) of Wisconsin, Republican vice presidential candidate and supply-side advocate Jack Kemp, US Sen. Sam Brownback (R) of Kansas, and the conservative advocacy group Empower America, which was founded by William Bennett and Jeanne Kirkpatrick.

Still, at one point in his life he seriously considered becoming a professional skier before turning to politics.

“Did you ever regret that decision?” CNN’s Candy Crowley asked him. “Sometimes,” Ryan replied.

Ryan’s budget plan is as controversial as it is well-known – a ready target for liberal commentators and the Obama campaign.

“Mr. Ryan has somehow acquired a reputation as a stern fiscal hawk despite offering budget proposals that, far from being focused on deficit reduction, are mainly about cutting taxes for the rich while slashing aid to the poor and unlucky,” New York Times columnist and Nobel economist Paul Krugman wrote in May.

But Ryan sometimes goes against the general drift of his party on other issues.

Unlike Mitt Romney, he supported the auto industry bailout, for which conservative columnist Michelle Malkin labeled him a “pro-bailout, anti-free market Republican.”

Ryan is very strongly antiabortion, but the fact that he generally avoids social issues like gay rights “has sometimes gotten him in trouble with conservative activists,” reports Time.

“In 2007, he voted for a bill that would ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. He explained his vote because he had friends ‘who didn’t choose to be gay … they were just created that way’.”

Being from the Badger State, Ryan naturally roots for the Green Bay Packers. His outdoor activities include bow hunting deer and fishing for Walleye. And as far as we know, he’s the only member of Congress whose summer jobs included driving the Oscar Meyer “Wienermobile.”

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