Paul Ryan answers questions at Delavan-Darien High School

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Monday, April 14, 2014

DELAVAN—“Wienermobiled” probably isn't a term that will come up on the Advanced Placement exam for government, but it's a real part of politics, Paul Ryan told Delavan-Darien high school students Monday.

Students in history and upper-level government classes spent about an hour learning about politics from Ryan, former vice-presidential candidate and current 1st District congressman.

Students in Adam Alter's AP Government classes had prepared questions that ranged from Ryan's favorite workout (it's p90x3 chest and back) to presidential ambitions.

Ryan tailored his responses to connect with his audiences. He talked, for example, about how the national debt could impact their generation, what they should do before considering a life in politics and the best way to pursue their goals—whatever they are.

-- Politics in the Internet age.

The session opened with a half-joking question about the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, and Ryan's answer gave them an object lesson in politics.

As a young person, Ryan had an internship at Oscar Mayer, selling products to grocery stores. In his case, it was “Lunchables,” a product that was new at the time.

At one point, he was at a store where the Wienermobile was doing a promotion. Although he wasn't one of the regular drivers, he ended up driving the hotdog-shaped vehicle from one town to the next.

“At one point I was asked, 'Did you drive the Wienermobile' and I said 'Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did,'” Ryan said. “So it went on Wikipedia that I had driven the Wienermobile, and then it went on that I was the Wienermobile driver, which is a totally different job.”

As a result, Ryan got what he described as “one of those Pinocchio things that said I was embellishing or lying.

“That happens a lot in public life—it's a good story,” Ryan said. “It's something you learn about the way the media works and had the Internet works, they take a bit of truth and it gets a life of its own and then it comes back to you, and that's the verb, 'wienermobiled.'”

-- Ryan's presidential ambitions

Is Ryan going to run for president in 2016?

“I don't know,” Ryan said. “I've still got time to figure it out.”

Then he added, “I don't know if I can still fulfill this vocation at the highest possible level and still have the family life.”

He told them that he had “presidential-sized policy ambitions” but his personal ambitions were not as big.

“I'm not one of these people who think about the next big promotion or the next big job,” Ryan said. “I think in Congress I'm in the policy making role that I want to be; I've never wanted to be in the elected leadership, the Speaker of the House, that's more of a political job than I personally prefer.”

His decision would depend on who else decided to run and if he felt he could give them his unqualified support.

-- Debt reduction

One student wanted to know if America would ever be out of debt.

“Here's the way this works: Our government is making a lot of promises to you that it can't keep,” Ryan said.

Social Security, Medicare and other social programs are giving the youngest generation an “unsustainable debt,” he said.

“The debt went up a lot in the past five years, and it wasn't just President Obama's fault—we had this recession,” Ryan said.

-- Local diversity

Delavan-Darien High School Principal Mark Schmitt told Ryan the district had the highest percentage of Latinos of any school district in the state. How could the district and the students make the most of it?

“I think cultural exchanges and integrating the community is really important,” Ryan said. “We obviously believe that assimilation is really important; it's about families getting to know each other.”

-- Life as a politician

Ryan told students that he hadn't planned to enter politics and originally thought he'd pursue a doctorate in economics. But internships and then jobs led, eventually, to a run for Congress.

You put up with a lot of things in this job—like time away from your family, like being Wienermobiled, the stress—but you can make a big difference in people's lives,” Ryan said. “You can take an idea, put it on paper, move it through the legislative process and see it make a big difference in people's lives.”

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