Following a site visit to Brigid’s Path, a recovery center for newborns and their mothers suffering from substance abuse disorders, in Kettering, Ohio. American Idea Foundation President Paul Ryan spoke with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Salena Zito about his efforts to help front-line organizations combat poverty and promote upward mobility.
The full article is available here and excerpts are included below.
Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Zito: Real solutions need real principles, according to Paul Ryan
By: Salena Zito
KETTERING, Ohio — Some on the left depict Paul Ryan as a man who would throw Grandma off the cliff because he supported restructuring entitlement programs to keep them from defaulting. Some on the right depict him as a RINO (Republican In Name Only) for his distaste for Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Ryan, the Speaker of the House from 2015 to 2019, said he is steadfast in his belief that conservative fiscal responsibility is the best way to lift people out of poverty and that Trump has become what he feared he always was….
Politics with principle
I spoke with Mr. Ryan while he was visiting Brigid’s Path, the first in-patient newborn recovery center in Ohio. Some of his critics mistake his quiet demeanor for aloofness. But those who have interacted with him realize his demeanor is a direct result of a man determined to conduct a life of purpose. He would agree that his choices haven’t always been perfect, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to continue to get it right.
Part — but not all — of the populism running through the Republican Party right now is populism without a principle, he said. “It’s wrapped around a personality.”
There has to be principle — which brings us back to Brigid’s Path. It’s a cheerfully-painted but unassuming building so fully surrounded by an industrial park that it is easy to miss.
The first thing Mr. Ryan heard as he walked into the lobby were the gentle sounds of babies — lots of babies. The Janesville, Wis., native and father of three smiled broadly and headed toward the rooms where nurses were cuddling and monitoring newborns suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a result of babies having been exposed to drugs prior to birth.
Mr. Ryan spent several hours touring the facility with local community leaders and Ohio U.S. Reps. Mike Turner and Brad Wenstrup, as they discussed the facility’s impact serving young mothers — and their infants — caught in the rising tide of opioid addiction. Sitting in the conference room at Brigid’s Place, Mr. Ryan was dressed casually, with comfortable shoes — no tie, no entourage.
Mr. Ryan was visibly moved by the infants he saw and had a powerful back-and-forth with a mother during a roundtable with stakeholders after the tour. Accompanied by her precocious and now healthy 18-month-old daughter, the mother candidly discussed her journey from addiction, to prison, to bringing her then-infant here 18 months ago.
Her answers to Mr. Ryan’s questions were so raw and frank that a pin drop would have shattered the hush.
Work on poverty
“I’ve been spending the better part of my adult life on poverty issues,” Mr. Ryan explained afterward. His involvement began with his work with former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp and continued as a member of Congress.
Mr. Ryan said he traveled — without fanfare, incognito — to high-crime and drug-infested neighborhoods with civil rights activist Bob Woodson in order to understand from the ground up what drove the despair. “Woodson told me at the time it was a commitment — not a drive-up, drop-in. When I went, I went for the duration,” he said. “It gave me a clear-eyed understanding of the roots of poverty, as well as the impact.”
It’s the vocation he said he has chosen since he has retired: “I do other things, but this foundation I founded, the American Idea Foundation, helps fund remarkable places like this place here to scale and replicate those poverty programs elsewhere.”
Mr. Ryan is also an adjunct professor at Notre Dame. “I work particularly at their laboratory for economic opportunity, where we run randomized control trials on promising poverty programs,” Mr. Ryan said, adding that his original love was the field of economics….
The sweet spot
Mr. Ryan said his sweet spot on making a difference in the world is mixing empathy and compassion with data. “That is why I’m a conservative. I believe in the role of civil society. I believe in the role that communities have, and I believe in the role of personal responsibility, upper mobility and people helping each other. Catholics, we call it subsidiarity.”
Mr. Ryan said it is something he has always taken to heart: “It is the most effective philosophy to doing the most good for the most people, and it’s the best way for society to govern itself.”
That’s a big reason he wants to get beyond Mr. Trump. Only then, “the Republican Party can heal and actually start winning elections and stopping the progressives from screwing up our country.” He noted the Republican losses in 2018, 2020 and 2021.
“The irony of all of this is Joe Biden and Donald Trump have a symbiotic relationship with one another,” he said. “They need each other to make the best case for their candidacies — and yet the vast majority of Americans do not want a rematch.”
And he’s not wrong. A series of national polls — including a recent survey done by the New York Times/Siena — shows voters are wary of a replay of 2020 and would prefer options other than Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden.
Maybe an option that puts principle over personality.