Great leadership profiles of Paul Ryan

October 10, 2012

Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

As Thursday night’s lone vice presidential debate approaches, both Joe Biden and Paul Ryan are busy prepping for what some are hailing as a vice presidential debate that could really matter, especially following President Obama’s lackluster performance in his own showdown with Mitt Romney last week.

Biden is apparently preparing by studying and watching videos of Ryan’s interviews and speeches, as well as bookmarking passages in Young Guns , the book co-authored by Ryan and Republican representatives Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, is playing Ryan in mock debates. Meanwhile, Ryan is practicing by squaring off with Ted Olson, the Republican attorney who has won some three-quarters of the 58 cases he has argued before the Supreme Court, including Bush v. Gore.

So why not engage in a little debate prep of your own? I’ve collected what I find to be the three most definitive profiles of Romney running mate Paul Ryan—what kind of leader he might be, what has shaped his background and more detail on his policies. Tomorrow, I’ll do the same for Joe Biden, and in the weeks to come, I’ll prepare a list of must-reads about the leadership styles of the president and Mitt Romney.

The Legendary Paul Ryan,” by Jonathan Chait in New York

Though he does not speak to Ryan for the piece, Chait’s profile examines Ryan’s political instincts, even if the rap on Ryan is that he supposedly isn’t much of an ambitious pol himself. Chait quotes The Fix’s description of Ryan’s “disdain for the sort of rank political calculations required of people who want to climb the electoral ladder,” yet makes the case that “with his newfound status as Wonk King of the Republicans, Ryan set about persuading his party members to adopt his sweeping manifesto.”

Chait’s profile is more a left-leaning policy profile than a leadership one, but it’s worth reading for key insights like this one: Ryan, Chait writes, “had to elbow more experienced Republicans out of the way to grab his nomination, and then leapfrog other more experienced Republicans to claim the party’s leadership of the House Budget Committee in 2007. And yet the narrative of Ryan’s career centers around ambitions others have on his behalf—always urging him to jump to the next level, while he modestly demurs.”

Man with a Plan,” by Stephen F. Hayes in The Weekly Standard

In Hayes’ lengthy piece, we learn how the 2006 wins by Democrats in Congress motivated Ryan to seek a leadership role in Congress. We’re reminded of the respect he won among Republicans in a testy exchange with the president over spending, and how Ryan’s ideas on reform led him to become his party’s “intellectual leader” As Hayes writes, “It was a dramatic turnaround. Just months after national Republicans had warned their candidates about embracing Ryan’s Roadmap, the party chose to give him a high-profile, national platform to sell his reforms.” And one of the key quotes from Ryan: “When I wrote this, I didn’t ask the leadership for permission,” Ryan tells Hayes. “I figured, ask for forgiveness later and not permission first.”

Fussbudget,” by Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker

Lizza’s piece, which was published just days before Ryan was announced as Mitt Romney’s running mate, has been called the definitive profile of the GOP veep candidate. It too chronicles the rise of Ryan’s ideas and power within his party, describing his approach as an “outside-in strategy, of building support among conservatives who would pressure Republican leaders to embrace his ideas.” It delves deeper into personal biographical detail, such as the role his father’s death had on shaping his worldview, and gives us some sense of what he sees as a political leader’s responsibilities. “If you’re going to criticize, then you should propose,” he told Lizza. “I think you’re obligated to do that. People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, ‘Just criticize and don’t do anything and let’s win by default.’ That’s ridiculous.”

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Jena McGregor writes a daily column analyzing leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
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