After working briefly as a congressional staffer, Paul Ryan joined Empower America, a conservative think tank, in 1993. Former New York congressman Jack Kemp, a principal at the group, quickly became Ryan’s mentor. Ryan wrote speeches for Kemp, and Kemp taught Ryan about the power of supply-side economics. By the time Kemp was selected as Bob Dole’s running mate in 1996, Ryan was a member of Kemp’s inner circle.
Since he joined the Republican ticket in August, Ryan has frequently spoken about Kemp’s influence, most notably during the Republican convention. “What gave Jack that incredible enthusiasm was his belief in the possibilities of free people, in the power of free enterprise and strong communities to overcome poverty and despair,” Ryan said.
In a speech Wednesday at Cleveland State University, Ryan once again cited Kemp’s legacy. The Romney-Ryan campaign, he said, shares Kemp’s philosophy, especially on poverty. Kemp was famous for connecting with inner-city voters, and Ryan said Republicans could do the same, if they talk about how growth empowers the poor.
If elected, Ryan promised that a Romney administration would make the government more efficient, and encourage the private sector to take the lead. “With a few exceptions, government’s approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs,” Ryan said. “In this war on poverty, poverty is winning.”
“The short of it is that there has to be a balance — allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do the work that only they can do,” Ryan said. “There’s a vast middle ground between the government and the individual.”
“For starters, a Romney-Ryan administration will clearly restore those parts of the welfare-reform law that have been undone or weakened,” Ryan added. “We will do this for the sake of millions of Americans who deserve to lead lives of dignity and freedom.”
To make the case for community-based poverty programs, Ryan spoke about his own life. “A lot of guys I grew up with worked at the GM plant in my hometown, and they lost their jobs when it closed,” he said. “What happened next is the same thing that happens in communities around the country every day. The town pulled together.”
Turning to politics, Ryan said the Obama administration’s mandates for religious groups are an example of how the government often oversteps on social policy. “Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told — from now on you’re going to do things the government’s way,” Ryan said. “It’s a threat to all those who turn to them.”
Ryan also hammered the Obama administration for its educational failures. “Too many children, especially African-American and Hispanic children, are sent into mediocre schools and expected to perform with excellence,” he said. “That’s unacceptable.”
“Sending your child to a great school should not be a privilege of the well-to-do,” Ryan said. “Mitt Romney and I believe that choice should be available to every parent in our country, wherever they live. Education reform is urgent, and freedom is the key.”
And near the end, Ryan summed up his pitch with a reflection on Kemp. “One of the things his friends loved most about him was his big heart,” he said. “When Jack Kemp talked about opportunity in America, he meant opportunity for everyone.”
“That is the kind of spirit that any political party can use, in any generation,” Ryan said. “Over many years, Jack set his mind and heart to the problems of poverty, brushing aside a lot of old assumptions and settled attitudes. The same holds true for Mitt Romney.”
“Mitt and I have a message that’s bigger than party,” Ryan said. “We are speaking to all Americans in this campaign, because we believe, as Jack Kemp believed, that economic growth and equality of opportunity are the surest path to the pursuit of happiness.”
“Wherever we are in life, whether we are rich or poor, black, brown, or white, American by chance or by choice, we are one nation, rising or falling together. That is the promise of America, and we can make it real in the lives of the many who feel left out.”