Another Perspective

Knowing Congressman Ryan

The thrill, by one who knew the young Paul.

By 8.20.12

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With all the people who have known and worked with Paul Ryan during his years in Washington, there are surely hundreds of stories to go with Governor Romney's choice for vice president in 2012. Here's mine.

It was very early on a Saturday morning down by the Chesapeake Bay and the local ospreys were already up, hunting and making those ridiculous chirps which are so unworthy of such a majestic bird. There was the first bare sign of light from the bedroom window overlooking the fields, but not yet enough to see if the deer were out for breakfast. For some reason I decided to get up and as usual turned on TV for the latest news, then headed for the kitchen -- and heard….

…reaction…Romney…surprise…secret…Paul Ryan… (WHAT??! TURN IT UP! ) selection…running mate…PAUL RYAN….

OMG!!!! IT'S PAUL WHO HAS BEEN CHOSEN FOR VICE PRESIDENT!! I grabbed the phone and called the friend who I knew would be as wildly excited as I was. Though it was not yet 6:00 a.m. she was lying in bed holding the phone and answered "Can you believe it?"

That friend and I worked with Paul at Empower America, a think tank founded in 1993 to study and develop serious conservative policy. The Clintons were in the White House, the conservatives were out and there was much work to do.

The enterprise started out in an unfinished office with the usual construction mess and with a staff that had to make do with whatever they could find. One of these was a very young Paul Ryan who I found sitting on a crate and working on an old computer that rested on some plastic drums. He was working on economic policy.

Paul came to Empower America as a policy analyst to work for and with some serious thinkers and doers: Jack Kemp on economic and monetary policy, Bill Bennett on social and cultural issues, Jeane Kirkpatrick on foreign policy, and Vin Weber on politics and strategy. Paul was incredibly dedicated to his work with a knowledge of issues that was more than impressive and the bosses knew it. But along with that the staff knew how kind, how unpretentious, how helpful -- and how good Paul was to work with. I think every staff member -- high or low -- counted Paul as a friend. And as for work ethic, one evening when I was anxious to call it a day, Paul told me he had to hurry to his next job waiting tables at Cactus Cantina. And now the policy wonk by day and waiter by night is on his party's Presidential Ticket!

From Empower America Paul headed to Capitol Hill as a staffer and when the chance came, as an elected member of the House of Representatives. One day as he was moving into his new office, a few of us stopped by to say hi. By nature congressional staffers are quite protective, and we were not expected nor particularly welcome for just barging in and saying we are his old colleagues here to wish him well. But a voice came from the inner office "I hear you, Manon, come on in!" Happy day.

I last saw Paul at his mentor Jack Kemp's funeral. As he entered the National Cathedral he was met by officials to escort him to a place of honor on the front row. Heading down the aisle Paul spotted the old Empower America staff sitting together and stopped -- as his escorts kept going. He said, "Oh, look! It's the whole gang!" and then called everybody by name. When Paul Ryan ascends to the vice presidency and spots a bunch of old friends somewhere, I think he'll let the Secret Service keep going and do the same thing -- greet his pals. Go, Paul and go America's Comeback Team!

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About the Author

Manon McKinnon is a writer living in Falls Church, Virginia.