Last night I attended my first big political event since coming home and it was quite the event. The 2010 Rock County Lincoln Day Dinner was held in Beloit and attended by 275 people - twice the size of any Lincoln Day I've ever attended in Rock County.
Nearly every major candidate was there, only Mark Neumann was absent but with good reason because one of his children was getting married. I met and spoke with most of the candidates and I have to say that this looks like a good year across the board. On the state level we have dynamic and charismatic candidates for Lt. Governor - including Friend of the Blog, Brett Davis - State Treasurer and Secretary of State. Scott Feldt, candidate for State Treasurer, served as Jack Voight's executive assistant for seven years when he was State Treasurer and has a certain Paul Ryan-like quality of being a policy wonk yet accessible and charismatic.
The speakers for the evening included JB Van Hollen, who continues to give a great stump speech on governing responsibly, and Scott Walker who brought down the house. I can honestly say that I have never seen Walker give a better stump speech than he did last night and if it's indicative of how he will be on the campaign trail this year, then Tom Barrett is going to regret running.
All this led up to the keynote for the evening, Paul Ryan. It's safe to say that Paul is a rock star in Rock County. People absolutely love him and with good reason. He spoke passionately and intelligently about the budget and the economy. Not surprisingly, he also laid out what is at stake in the 2010 elections.
If the President is looking for pointers on how to give historical perspective without lecturing or talking down to people, Paul Ryan is a good place to start. He gave a brief - yet accurate - history of Progressivism to explain the "Third Wave" of Progressivism that the President and many in his party claim to follow. Starting with Fighting Bob LaFollette and how the movement changed from it's beginnings as a fight against powerful special interests and placing more power with the people. Ryan also got into the specifics of entitlement reform and the debt ceiling, but never got dull or boring.
He spoke to us as an audience, but also as individuals. It's a very rare gift for any speaker. The danger for any politician willing to lead and inspire is to slip into a style that more closely resembles a televangelist, or an old fire and brimstone preacher. When speaking about the lofty ideals of freedom and liberty, it's hard to keep a conversational tone - as if you would be saying the same words to one person or a crowd of hundreds. The ability to keep that tone, that they are not mere words, but firmly held beliefs is only seen in a few leaders throughout history. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had it. Paul Ryan does too.
Let's hope that eventually there's a pattern there.