In its first year of operation, the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service has brought many conservative leaders to campus to speak about their visions for America. In the fall, former governor Luis Fortuño (R – PR) served as a fellow of the program, hosting talks and office hours and inviting students to enter into the political conversation. CNN contributor S.E. Cupp has also hosted various events, organizing conversations with students about the state of the world today. GU Politics has invited a number of prominent legislators and national figures to speak on campus, from Senators Tim Scott (R – SC) and Mike Lee (R – UT) to former majority leader Eric Cantor. In the “Reflections on Running” series, former presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina discussed their experiences running for president.
While other colleges merely pay lip service to promoting a free exchange of ideas, Georgetown and GU Politics have been fully committed to bringing this dialogue to light. Indeed, it has never been a better time to be a Republican at Georgetown.
It was especially rewarding to find out the Institute would beending the year with a speech by none other than Speaker Paul Ryan (R – WI). Getting in line that morning, I already had some sense of what Speaker Ryan would be talking about. For years now, the representative from Wisconsin’s first district has been a stalwart defender of conservative values in the House of Representatives. For the longest time, Ryan was known as the budget guru for Republicans, advocating for reasonable, balanced budgets while also cutting taxes and spending. Ryan was also a vocal player in petitioning for entitlement reform, as he believed that major reforms were necessary to keep programs like Medicare and Social Security solvent and safe for future generations.
Yet, as time passed from his unsuccessful bid for Vice President in 2012, Ryan began to adopt a new message as he toured the country’s least fortunate regions and areas. Recently recanting his“makers and takers” tone, Ryan has since switched to a conservative message of hope and optimism, frequently speaking on how Republicans can truly help our fellow citizens living in poverty and dealing with poor-quality housing and education. It was precisely this message of hope for America’s future that was expected to reach Georgetown audiences that day.
Very shortly into his speech, everyone could tell that Ryan sincerely wanted to connect with millennial voters and continue the dialogue with them. His personal story was simultaneously witty (with regards to how he almost became a ski-bum in Colorado) and emotional (describing the challenges his family faced after his father passed away). Without falter, his belief in the American Dream always rang out, echoing the long-standing tradition that anyone who perseveres through challenge and adversity can succeed in America. Ryan went on to extend that vision to Americans at large, recounting the many ways the House of Representatives are trying to loosen the burdens of government regulations that are holding people back from reaching their full potential. After all, the government exists to serve the people, Ryan contended, not control the people. He closed his introductory remarks with an invitation to the students in the audience, asking them to join the conversation and offer their own ideas and efforts in building a confident America.
The Question-and-Answer session that followed gave many students a chance to do just that. Students posed a number of questions about issues that deeply affect their own personal lives, from rising education costs to health insurance that covers pre-existing conditions. Rather than preaching from a pulpit about the failures of liberal policies, Ryan acknowledged the concerns of these students and offered viable conservative alternatives, from keeping the college loan process local and personal while also expanding school choice to replacing Obamacare with increased nationwide competition with a separate high-risk pool for people with pre-existing conditions. Not only that, Ryan went beyond conservatism to appeal to the audience’s sense of national unity and strength. When questioned about the removal of the state flags from the Capitol tunnel, since some flags include Confederate symbols, Ryan explicitly declared his opposition for such divisive symbols, instead calling upon Americans to celebrate symbols of unity.
In the hour plus dialogue, Ryan imparted many wise words on conservatives in the audience. He advised people concerned with the consequences of the 2016 election to keep hope in mind and to judge a candidate by their policy vision for America, not their personality. Ryan described the various political issues our generation will have to address, from chipping away at the national debt to reform entitlements such that our generation can continue to benefit from the programs. Most of all, Ryan served as a model for young, optimistic conservatives hoping to change the country for the better. With politicians such as Speaker Ryan, America can truly stand as a land of hope, freedom, and opportunity.