Opportunity Lives Editor-in-Chief John Hart: What was your motivation for doing this tour?
Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.): Too many people in our country are slipping through the cracks. Society, culture, government, everything is not hitting its potential. It’s important for us to understand, as people, what’s happening out there, what good things are happening and how reviving civil society is paramount to reviving America and the American idea.
We need to heal our communities, and within our communities we need to surround people who are making a difference and help them by getting involved ourselves. These are incredible stories. And they’re just a sampling of what is out there. We want to encourage more people in their lives and in their communities to find these stories themselves and go make a difference.
It isn’t about government or polices or bills or laws. This is about the fact that we need to revitalize our communities. We need to revitalize civil society. We need to find these stories where they exist and do what we can to make a difference so that we can see more of them and pass it on and pay it forward. That’s really what this is about.
JH: How would respond to cynics who would say this is just about politics, or cynics who would say this series is Paul Ryan positioning himself?
PR: I could have put myself in every one of these videos. I could have been the narrator. I tried to play as minimal a role as I possibly could because I think these stories are powerful on their own. They tell their own story. I just wanted to share what I learned because I think it’s so powerful.
And this really isn’t a partisan thing. This has nothing to do with party or politics and everything to do with revitalizing our communities and just helping one another. We don’t have enough of that in our public discourse, and we clearly don’t have enough of this in our communities. What you see here is the restorative nature of redemption. You see the fact that we have it in our own power as citizens, as communities to fix our problems. We in America can restore America.
JH: One thing that struck me about these videos is how they struck a good balance on the faith-based content. The videos are unapologetically spiritual but they’re not didactic or preachy. Could you reflect on that?
PR: I think faith is an instrumental and critical component but it’s not the only component. I think faith is one of the best motivators for people but perhaps not all people. I think the point of a society based upon liberty and freedom is that we should at least allow these great works to occur. We should allow faith to do what it does well. It’s about respecting religious freedom and personal liberty and just showcasing the good that can come from faith, and good works that are faith inspired. But it’s not trying to push it on anybody who doesn’t want it.
JH: Is this in part about leveling the playing field between government and faith-based or private groups?
PR: Look, I’m no fan of progressivism. I believe that with unlimited government you’ll ultimately have unlimited government crowding out the space for civil society. And the first space that gets pushed aside is the faith-based space. I think it’s important to tell these stories about how faith can do so much more than government programs, and I think it is important to show how it is necessary to preserve this space in our society – the space for private works, for faith-based works, for different forms of motivation and inspiration. Government needs to be respectful of its limits so that we are free to pursue our potential and our methods for healing our communities, and whatever works. That’s what it is all about.
JH: “What works” is a clear theme throughout the videos.
PR: That’s right. It’s whatever works. Government should respect that because by having a limited and effective government that means that you have a government that respects what works. And shouldn’t we be for whatever works to heal our communities? If it works, it works. We shouldn’t be biased against proven methods of redemption.
This is all about a results oriented approach. The results speak for themselves. Lets let the results take root and flourish.
JH: What did you take away from this experience personally?
PR: There is nothing more thrilling and exciting than to see a person go through hell and back and come out flourishing. That is absolutely inspiring. You know, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It’s something that is contagious. That’s why these stories should be told and retold and replicated.
JH: Even though these stories are certainly not partisan, as a leading Republican, what’s the take away for the Republican Party and conservative movement?
PR: We need to show that this what we ’re about. This is what we are for. This is who we are fighting for. This is what we mean to support. There are the kinds of stories that we want to help to produce more of. This is the embodiment of our governing philosophy and our governing principles. These stories are manifestations of what we believe. This is what our principles look like in practice. And this is what we are aiming to achieve.
JH: What did you learn about who the poor really are in America?
PR: The poor could be anybody. It could be your neighbor. It’s not someone who is necessarily poor for simply materialistic reasons. It’s people who become poor for lots of different reasons. Materialism is just a part of it. It can be caused by death in a family. It can happen to anyone in America. The point is we should not try and define the poor as if it is some segment of society that ought to be off separate and dealt with as some separate body. The poor are us. They are our fellow citizens. They are not, you know, somebody with a disease that needs to be quarantined. The poor are just people. They are people who have not yet hit their potential that if given opportunities and a chance and are healed of whatever it is that is troubling them are the people who are going to who are tomorrow’s success stories. The poor are America’s untapped potential.
JH: I’ve described these stories as “modern parables” but I’m not the first person to argue that stories are more powerful than mere theory or policy proposals. What I hear you talking about with these videos is marrying what you, and many others, believe to be true about “what works” with story. And how that process gives resonance to theory.
PR: That’s exactly right. Look, I can give a lot of good speeches at AEI and all these things. And I can even write it in a book. But I think you need to show not tell. We need to do more showing instead of telling. These videos show what we mean when we talk about renewing our communities.
JH: After you left the video shoot [for episode 1] Bob Woodson was talking with us. He said, ‘You know, if people thought this was about Paul Ryan or if he was full of himself they never would have taken the time to do this.’ He said character matters and people see what your true motivations are.
PR: Yeah, that’s funny. I have huge policy ambition. My personal ambition is not nearly as big as my policy ambition. Some people tell me I’m not ambitious enough. I’m a cause guy. I just always have been. And I enjoy working on these causes.
John Hart is Editor-in-Chief of Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter @johnhart333.