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JANESVILLE, Wis. – In a hometown “send-off” rally that doubled as a preview of the Republican National Convention speech he is set to give in Tampa later this week, Rep. Paul D. Ryan on Monday delivered an impassioned description of his family’s journey to the United States from Ireland and outlined his vision for an America in which the role of community trumps that of government.
“We live together in freedom,” presumptive GOP vice presidential nominee Ryan told a sea of more than 2,000 family members, friends, students and other supporters gathered in the gymnasium of his high school alma mater. “And what we do in our communities is we look out for one another. That’s what’s so special; that’s what government can’t replace or displace.”
Ticking off a list of local charities and organizations including community nursing homes, the Boys and Girls Club, crisis pregnancy centers and the YMCA, Ryan told the crowd at Joseph A. Craig High School, “There are the things we do in our communities that bring us together to help our neighbors in need.”
“You know, they call it ‘civil society,’ ” he continued. “I call it Janesville, Wis. And what is important is that our government respects this, that our government honors this – that our government works for the people and not the other way around so that we can do this.”
The event was as much a chance for Ryan to test-drive his highly anticipated convention speech – which he is set to deliver Wednesday night – as it was an opportunity for him to showcase his roots in this industrial community of 63,000.
In his two weeks on the campaign trail as the GOP vice presidential nominee, Ryan, a fifth-generation Janesville native who on Monday joked that he must have “67 cousins” in his hometown, has rarely made mention of his personal biography, instead focusing his praise on his running mate, Mitt Romney.
That was not the case on Monday.
Ryan’s wife, Janna, and their three young children – Elizabeth, Charles and Samuel – made a rare appearance with him as he took the stage to cheers.
Introducing Ryan at the event were several local elected officials as well as the candidate’s older brother, Tobin, after whose introduction Ryan joked: “Now you know I’m one of the less articulate members of the Ryan family.”
In one of his first times doing so on the trail, Ryan spoke about his great-great-grandfather’s immigration to the United States, telling the crowd that his family’s story “is not that different from most Americans’ stories.”
“You know, back in the 1850s the potatoes stopped growing in Ireland, so our great-great-grandfather, with the shirt on his back, made his way to ... the outskirts of Janesville, Wisconsin. And he looked around, and it was summertime, and he said: ‘This looks just like Ireland,’?” Ryan said.
“... The reason our family came here and the reason everybody else’s family came here is because of what this country stands for. . . . You know, it’s the only country founded on an idea, and that idea is precious,” he added.