Paul Ryan: charming US congressman who might become vice president

Even opponents concede that Mitch Romney's young running mate, Paul Ryan, has charm and integrity.

When Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced his vice-presidential running mate to a cheering crowd in Norfolk, Virginia, this month, he made a classic Freudian slip. "Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States... Paul Ryan."

What "a flub", says But it was revealing. If the Republicans prevail this November and Romney is sworn in as the 45th President, "it will be Ryan who sets the new administration's policy direction". No wonder so many Republicans wish the two men's roles were reversed.

The brainy young Wisconsin congressman is "Romney's peer", says The American Spectator. But "intellectual horsepower" is not his only strength. Even opponents concede that Ryan, 42, has charm and integrity. "Talking to him privately... is like listening to Dean Martin singing you relax without realising." His "optimistic vision" of rebuilding America sends crowds into raptures. He also has a great family and he's a genuine hunter and outdoorsman. "My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, a little Spotted Cow, Leinies and some Miller," he says. That's Ryan in a nutshell, says Salon.

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He portrays himself as a typical working man, but he was born into a well-to-do family in Janesville, Wisconsin part of the Irish mafia' that has run the city's construction industry since the 19th century. The event said to have shaped Ryan was finding his father, an attorney, dead of a heart-attack when Ryan was 16, says The Huffington Post. "He... matured," says his older brother Tobin contributing to the family by flipping burgers at McDonald's and caring for his grandmother who had Alzheimer's disease. A renowned "quick study", Ryan specialised in economics and political science at the Miami University in Ohio, hoovering up the works of free-marketeers such as Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek and Russian-born libertarian Ayn Rand.

Ryan was just 28 when he entered Congress in 1999, says the New Yorker. But he was already considered a radical thinker thanks to a speechwriting stint for Jack Kemp's think-tank, Empower America. Deciding "to be a specialist not a generalist", he worked his way up the Budget Committee ladder, gaining a formidable reputation for mastering policy detail.

Yet when Ryan launched his "sobering" Road Map for America's Future in 2008, even Republicans winced, says Time. Newt Gingrich hardly a rabid leftie denounced it as "right-wing social engineering". It is a measure of Ryan's persistence and "possibly suicidal guts" that he eventually harnessed the party to his plan.

Ryan's father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died before their 60th birthdays, says The New Yorker. That might explain his "punishing early-morning workouts" and drive. "I think life is short," he once said. "You'd better take advantage of it while you can."

The 'most extreme VP candidate in more than a century.

The consensus on Ryan, says The Economist, is that he is "risky for Romney" but "good for America". As a determined tax-cutter, state-shrinker and social conservative (he opposes gay marriage and abortion rights), he is "the distilled essence of Tea" and a perfect target for Democrats. Many Republican voters will also be disturbed by aspects of Ryan's road map, particularly by plans to replace Medicare the government-run scheme for the elderly with a private voucher scheme. But at least he is a man with a plan, "who constantly reminds America that deficit reduction is a necessity not a luxury". And at least voters "will be presented with a proper choice" on the central issue of this presidential election: "how big America's government should be".

Hear, hear, says Henry Blodget on Paul Ryan has done "what no other lame-o congressman" has done: acknowledge the problem and offer a solution. If his budget proposal's basic premise is right, "we're screwed" if we do nothing though you wouldn't guess that from other politicians' head-in-the-sand approach. "You can disagree with how Ryan proposes to solve the problem (and I very much disagree)," but he's opened the debate. Even so, he's "a risky pick". According to The New York Times stats guru Nate Silver, "Ryan is the most extreme VP candidate in more than a century"; and history shows that those "closest to the centre, ideologically... give the presidential candidate the best chance of winning".

Yet nothing in politics is ever black and white, says Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker. Like many young conservatives, Ryan is "embarrassed by the Bush years" denouncing the policies that saw tax cuts succour the wealthy, while the deficit ballooned. Before President Obama slammed Ryan's road map last year, "there was talk in Washington that the two young, wonky Midwesterners might be able to build a working relationship". It's a pity, in some ways, that this is now off the cards.