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Paul Ryan: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

Photo courtesy AP Images / J. Scott Applewhite

Since becoming speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Ryan (R, Wisconsin) has presented a compelling vision for the party and has racked up an impressive list of “firsts.” Besides showing enough gall to call Donald Trump’s proposal to exclude Muslim immigrants “not conservatism,” Ryan has led the fight in determining what conservatism is. He is the first House speaker to sleep in his Washington, D.C., office — rather than renting a room — and he became the first speaker in nearly a century to sport a beard.

When former House Speaker John Boehner announced his resignation and his runner-up failed to get the votes to replace him, the Republican Party was in shambles. One man brought unity to the fractured party, however, and set a course for the future. That man was Representative Paul Ryan.

Paul Ryan’s Vision for the Republican Party

Ryan recently gave a speech outlining the way forward for the Republican Party. He said the GOP’s “number one goal” should be developing “a complete alternative to the left’s agenda.” It is not enough to stand athwart Obama yelling “stop” — conservatives also need to present a policy platform for the future.

What should define the party that’s been long-attacked as being in bed with big business, according to Paul Ryan? A firm stance against crony capitalism and corporate welfare. This populist theme was featured heavily in the new House speaker’s remarks.

“More bureaucracy means less opportunity — because big government and big business don’t fight each other so much as feed each other,” Ryan declared. “This is how it works: Smart, talented people go into government thinking the only way to fix complicated problems is with complicated laws — laws that only people like themselves can understand.”

This leads government officials to “make new bureaucracies” and “put up red tape.” Rather than sticking around to enforce these laws, however, the bureaucrats then “go into the private sector and help businesses navigate the very maze they created.” Such practices create a “revolving door,” as big government and big business grow by promoting each other, at the expense of smaller companies and the economy as a whole.

Ryan pointed to the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) as an example. “If the insurance industry does not understand how Obamacare works, why not hire the person who ran it? This works out great for them, but what about the rest of us? What about the people who can’t get ahead because costs are too high… or who don’t create jobs because the laws are so confusing?”

The system Ryan attacked is called “crony capitalism” or “cronyism” because it is the method by which government provides benefits to its cronies. While presidential candidates like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorina also have attacked it in the GOP debates, Ryan presented the issue clearly and simply, and brought it to the forefront of the congressional debate.

While Ryan attacked Democrats and progressives as crony capitalists, he also called for a less abrasive approach to politics than some former hosts of “The Apprentice” have shown recently. The House speaker presented a reason why some Republicans are favoring Donald Trump, and how the party should respond to such rhetoric.

“And it is natural, after losing to your opponents for so long, that people start to think, maybe they are on to something,” Ryan explained, in a subtle dig on Trump’s rhetorical style. “Maybe the way to win the debate is to play identity politics, never mind ideas. Maybe what you do is slice and dice the electorate: demonize, polarize.”

“I would just say, yes, it’s possible we could win that way — but to what end?” Rather than the bravado of a man like Trump, Ryan declared that “we want a confident America — a purposeful America. We want to know we stand for freedom and show it — not with bluster or bravado, but with calm, steady action.”

This calm and steady action requires a different leader at the helm, Ryan concluded. Obama cannot provide this kind of leadership — “we need a new president. It’s just that simple.”

A New Kind of House Speaker

In addition to showing leadership on issues, Ryan is unleashing a barrage of “firsts” — from sleeping in his office to growing a beard.

Paul Ryan became the first speaker of the House to sleep in his office, rather than getting an apartment in Washington, D.C. Ryan is far from the only member of Congress to choose this unusual lifestyle, and there are many reasons why around 50 members — most of them Republicans — do so.

Sleeping in the office saves a congressman a great deal of money, as rent in D.C. is famously expensive, and congressmen also have their residences in their home states. It may also send the message that a politician is less tied to Washington, and more loyal to their family.

“I just work here. I don’t live here,” Ryan told CNN’s Dana Bash on the show “State of the Union.”

“So I live in Janesville, Wisconsin. I commute back and forth every week,” Ryan explained. “So I get up very early in the morning. I work out. I work til about 11:30 at night. I go to bed and I do the same thing the next day.”

The House speaker added that this living arrangement “actually makes me more efficient,” because “I can actually get more work done by sleeping on a cot in my office.” Even though he became speaker of the House, Ryan said “I’m going to keep doing it.”

In a possible show of humility, Ryan chooses to sleep in his original office in the Longworth House Office Building, rather than in the speaker of the House’s grand office in the Capitol Building. Rather than choosing the grand office — which he said stinks of smoke from John Boehner’s tenure — he remains in his old office, in one of three buildings which the New York Times called “veritable homeless shelters for members of the House.”

While the House office buildings do enjoy certain creature comforts — laundry machines and showers in the gym, nightly custodial services, and ample heat, electricity, Internet, and cable TV — those hardly make the decision to sleep in one’s office less noble. This is especially true in Ryan’s case, as he sleeps in his smaller and less grand office.

A Bearded Speaker?

Ryan is the first House speaker in nearly 100 years to grow a beard. Returning from his Thanksgiving break with what the New York Times’ Alan Rappeport called “serious stubble,” Ryan wondered on social media whether he was the first bearded speaker in a century.

He was close, only missing the mark by 10 years. The House historian explained that the last speaker with a beard was — ironically a man with the last name “Gillett” — Frederick H. Gillett, who presided over the House of Representatives until 1925.

Mr. Ryan’s spokeswoman said only one person has the final vote on whether or not the speaker will keep his facial hair. “He’ll keep it as long as Janna lets him,” the spokeswoman said, referring to Ryan’s wife.

Photo courtesy AP Images / J. Scott Applewhite

Photo courtesy AP Images / J. Scott Applewhite

Long before this possibly premature beard, Ryan’s manliness had become legendary — sparking the popular “Hey Girl, It’s Paul Ryan!” Tumblr page.

From bold leadership on ideas to sprouting some facial hair, Ryan is taking the House speakership forward. He may need a new president to bring the bold new GOP policies to pass, but that won’t stop him from doing all he can at the moment.