Third, leaders need to focus on their personal character.
But the most important part of his message may not have been policy centered but character centered.
Ryan said the kind of politician you are will depend on the kind of person you are. “First I’m a husband and father and then I’m a public servant and that’s just the way I order these things in my mind,” he said in answer to a question. “To me it’s an inseparable thing. It gives me a sense of philosophy that is grounded in my faith but it also gives me a sense of how I should conduct myself both personally and publicly.”
This focus on personal character is the only way to raise the level of debate in the country from blind anger to visionary passion.
“In a confident America, we also have a basic faith in one another,” he said. “We question each other’s ideas — vigorously — but we don’t question each other’s motives. If someone has a bad idea, we don’t think they’re a bad person. We just think they have a bad idea. People with different ideas are not traitors. They are not our enemies.”
In the questions and answers he identified our common goals for all politicians. “We all want to be prosperous. We all want to be healthy. We want everyone to reach their potential in their lives,” he said. “Liberals and conservatives are going to disagree with one another on how to achieve that. No problem. That’s what this is all about. Let’s have a battle of ideas.”
We live in an age of cynicism about politics, and it is no wonder why: bad leaders in Washington have betrayed our trust again and again.
But the answer to our problems can’t be to choose a new trustworthy person who mirrors our anger. It has to be to do the hard work of Democracy: finding men and women of character who are bent on restoring the principles our country was founded on.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.