It’s a good week to be a Badger in Tampa, and not just because Paul Ryan decided to base his vice-presidential acceptance speech on making the world safe for Janesville.
Wisconsin Republicans have been everywhere at this convention. The Republican National Committee chairman––who gaveled the convention open and closed in less than a minute on Monday––is Reince Priebus from Kenosha.
The first standing ovation––during the Romney presidential roll call––went to Gov. Scott Walker who grew up in Delavan (and the ovation was not for his tally, but his victory over the state employee unions in last June’s recall election). And the hands-down best speech of the convention so far belongs to Janesville native Ryan.
Ryan’s address to the convention was an homage to limited government, fiscal restraint, individual responsibility and the social values he grew up with living in a small Wisconsin town. “I live on the same block where I grew up. We belong to the same parish where I was baptized,” he said. “Janesville is that kind of place.”
The Three Musketeers
This brand of Republicanism has been at the heart of a resurgent Wisconsin Republican party that in 2010 captured the governorship, both houses of the legislature and an open U.S. Senate seat. And the three musketeers who made it happen were Ryan, Walker and Priebus.
Over the last decade, they have been friends, advisers in each other’s campaigns, and the vanguard of a new generation of Republican leaders who believe Republicans should say what they mean, then do it.
“Paul and I and Reince all grew up in the same area, at the same time, and at the same time in our lives we decided to go into politics,” Walker told me at a Wisconsin delegation party. “We didn’t know each other growing up, but I think we were all inspired by Ronald Reagan: not to be Republicans necessarily, but to enter public service.”
Different High Schools Together
You might say they all went to different high schools together, putting their energy into sports, church, scouting––both Walker and Ryan were Eagle Scouts––and politics. Priebus worked on his first political campaign while still in high school. Walker put a Reagan sign on his door at the age of 14. Ryan busied himself as president of his junior class, prom king and a varsity letterman in three sports, but buried his head in Ayn Rand books in his spare time.
The three towns where they grew up –– Janesville (pop. 63,575), Delavan (pop. 8,000) and Kenosha (pop. 99,000) –– all lie within a 30-mile radius of each other, and Ryan paints an idyllic picture of what it was like living there.
When he walked down the street, all the corner shops––the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores—were owned by small business people, who worked seven days a week to keep them going.
“Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning. Nobody did their thinking, and worrying, and sweating for them.”
“When I was waiting tables, washing dishes, or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself.
“That’s what we do in this country. That’s the American Dream. That’s freedom, and I’ll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.”
Compare and Contrast
There is, of course, life outside Janesville. Compare it, for instance, to the Roseland neighborhood in Chicago, a community of roughly the same size where Barack Obama used to work as a community organizer.
Roseland, like Janesville, has all of the same corner stores, except 50 percent are boarded up. Janesville lost a GM plant three years ago. Roseland lost the entire U.S. steel industry two decades back. Janesville is 91 percent white, Roseland is 99 percent black (although it didn’t used to be). Janesville has an unemployment rate of 8.9 percent. Roseland’s is 29 percent today.
Forty-five percent of the households in Janesville are married couples, and 35 percent are singles living alone. Well over half the households in Roseland are single mothers with children. More than 90 percent of the high school students in Janesville graduated last year. In Roseland’s four major high schools, fewer than 40 percent of the freshmen even get to their senior year.
Janesville may have the resilience to get along without “the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.” Roseland is the perfect example of what happens when there is no planning at all.
By the Light of The Moon
The crisp clarity of Ryan’s conservatism is one reason Romney selected him as his running mate. The Wisconsin Republican’s speech Wednesday night made it clear he chose well. But Wisconsin Republicanism is not for everyone. As Ryan spoke, I kept a tally of the faces the arena video cameras put up on screen during the applause. In the 134 cutaways, I saw only three African-Americans.
During Wisconsin football games, the Wisconsin band plays a tune that is familiar to everyone in the stadium:
If you want to be a badger,
Just come along with me,
By the bright shining light,
By the light of the moon.
I’ll bet Paul Ryan has sung it a few times himself. But what if you can’t see the moon, or the one you see is not bright and shining at all?