There’s a saying in politics that Washington is Hollywood for ugly people, but they might need to add a corollary: Except for Republican vice-presidential candidates. When Mitt Romney announced 42-year-old Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media swooned at the Wisconsin congressman’s clean-cut hunkiness. Jon Stewart was driven to distraction by his “Smurf-anus” blue eyes, and as pundits complimented his fitness prowess — obsessive P90X workouts reportedly leave him with only 6-8 percent body fat — you could practically hear the countdown until the first shirtless beach photo op presented itself. (The over/under here is 6.5 days.)
Ryan, a seven-term congressman and father of three, becomes the first unambiguously Generation X candidate on a major presidential ticket. (President Obama was born in 1961, which places him on the borderline between Baby Boomers and Gen X.) When he graduated from Miami University (of Ohio) in 1992, the top scripted television show was Roseanne, the biggest movie was Wayne’s World, and the most popular college albums were the works of Nirvana and The Black Crowes. John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief and Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun were the hot page-turners. Though Ryan’s politics are staunchly conservative, his pop-cultural tastes take cues from this era; he recently revealed in separate interviews that he listens to “a lot of grunge,” and considers himself a fan of Rage Against the Machine, the same left-leaning band that supported the Occupy Wall Street movement. He told CNN that he also enjoyed the Grateful Dead, Metallica, and Led Zeppelin, and his official Facebook page lists Hank Williams, Jr., and Beethoven as additional favorites.
If his taste in music violates some left-right code, it reflects his politically-neutral appreciation for all things funny. When he was asked by childhood friend Tony Huml last year who the funniest man in America is, Ryan seemed almost apologetic about his answer. “This may sound funny coming from me, but I’d say Jon Stewart,” Ryan said. “I actually get a kick out of [when Stewart targets me]. He does it very tastefully.”
Ryan also cites Monty Python as a personal favorite, both the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the BBC sketch series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Unassailable choices.
Some of his other pop-cultural touchstones are a little more predictable, politically speaking. His book choices reflect his Roman Catholic background (the Bible, the works of C.S. Lewis), and his political stance as a supply-side disciple who favors limited government (Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom). Even his fondness for the Clint Eastwood western The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner can be easily interpreted as heroic paeans to individualism.
Not surprisingly, Ryan is a proud outdoorsman who prefers bow-hunting and archery to guns. (Vice presidents have been known to shoot their friends in the face.) He also loves to fish for walleye and muskie, and he’s not opposed to wrestling catfish out of a cold stream with his bare hands!
Your move, Joe Biden. Suddenly, riding the Amtrak shuttle doesn’t seem so cool, does it?