“Mr. Ryan was born in 1970 …”
New York Times profile of the Republican vice presidential candidate.
As this week’s Republican National Convention from Tampa, Fla. turns Romney-Ryan into state-of-the-art, prime-time propaganda, some baby boomers are still reeling from one feature of the program: how young Paul Ryan is. At 42, he’s younger than John F. Kennedy — forever 47 in our Camelot-arrested minds — and younger than Barack Obama, who was born in 1961.
Wait. Didn’t the Yippies say, “Never trust anyone over 30, man?”
Jerry Rubin (the radical 1960s’ one, not the Santa Monica one) and Abbie Hoffman (the one and only one) said a lot of far out things, but since they’re not here, it’s up to me to say this about Paul Ryan.
He’s Reagan Youth.
They’re heeeere …
OK, maybe not them, but he is. Think about it. Born in 1970 means that by the time the future Wisconsin congressman left for college it was the end of the Reagan administration. From the age of 10 until he turned 18, all Ryan knew was … well, according to a New York Times profile, “A Conservative Star With Roots in Small-Town America,” Ryan by 1988 “already had his core conservative beliefs and trickle-down economic theories.”
“I don’t think it was a great professor who opened his eyes in college,” said his brother and confidant Tobin Ryan.
So who did raise the Wisconsinite’s baby blues (described in various accounts as “piercing,” “haunting” and “laser-like”)? Ayn Rand? Nope, because it wasn’t until his junior year (1991) that he took macroeconomics and a professor at Miami U says he talked to Ryan about Rand. (That Rand, not to be confused with Rand Paul, another congressman who is son of Ron Paul, who ran for president and who, as R.J. Reynolds’ cigarette commercials told us, was “a whole ‘nother smoke.”)
How can one define Reagan Youth? Someone who came of age during the Reagan revolution (1980-1988). Paul Ryan was high school class president during those formative years. He was also a child during the decade made famous by video games like PAC-Man, which taught children the all-important basics of hand-eye coordination. Like many, Ryan got his not through sports — he only played a little soccer in high school — but via video. In other words, if he weren’t on the GOP ticket he could be a drone pilot killing Pakistanis.
Think about your own years between ages 10 and 18 where you were starting fifth grade or lived on your bicycle, hung out at a bookstore (yes, they did exist) or were taken “from crayons to perfume,” as Lulu sang to Sidney Poitier in “To Sir With Love.” My path to maturity was shaped from the late ‘60s to mid ‘70s. Don’t say that I have given myself away, just because I recall the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, and saw young people beaten in the streets during the Democratic Convention in Chicago on my TV. I remember asking my father, watching with me: “Why are police beating up students?” And my father, ever wise, replied, “I don’t know, son. I don’t know.” (And from that I learned to question authority because often, they did not know.)
What years informed you?
Full disclosure: where was I during the 1980s? Hiding out in San Francisco, New York, Greece and Minneapolis. In fact, once, while Ryan was attending Miami of Ohio, I served as road manager for a stand-up comic who played that very university. Ryan may have been in the audience! (Yeah, right. He claims he was into Rage Against the Machine.) I remember after the performance walking around campus avoiding a steady procession of students crazy drunk all over the lawns and roofs of frat houses. It was like a scene out of “Indignation,” the Philip Roth novel where his protagonist is drafted into the Korean War after being kicked out of an Ohio college for his own fraternity hijinks. Only here it was the era of Reagan-Bush!
Look what made Ryan such a conservative. Why is the Tea Party so excited about him? Just three years after forming the party, one of their own could be a heartbeat from the top spot. You watch: one day the Tea Party will be the name of the party and Republicans will go the way of the Bull Mooses, forever recalled as something known as one hell of a “Grand Old Party.”
This is why Vice President Paul Ryan is my worst nightmare. Forget policy — think mythology. By his 18th birthday in 1988, the country’s path had been set toward this B-movie disaster being played out in front of us today. As the potential leader of Reagan’s children on the radical right returning zombie-like to capture power, Ryan is someone about whom “Death of a Salesman” playwright Arthur Miller warned us, “Attention must be paid.”
Does Romney-Ryan sound like it’s got any rhyme or reason to you?
Hank Rosenfeld is former senior news writer at KNX 1070-AM news radio and current contributor to “Off-Ramp” on KPCC 89.3-FM