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Rekha Basu: Tim Ryan, meditator and football player, draws on both in his presidential bid

Rekha Basu, Des Moines Register on

Published in Op Eds

Democratic presidential candidate Tim Ryan has the build and self-assurance of a former football quarterback, and the calm of someone who writes books on meditation and mindfulness.

The Ohio congressman hunts for buck and speaks with outrage about mass shootings committed "with a gun somebody shouldn't have had." But in an interview at the Polk Country Steak Fry last month, he stressed he's not taking anyone's rifles away, and said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should "get off his ass" and pass a comprehensive background check bill for gun buyers. He hasn't taken a position on banning assault weapons.

A chunk of Ryan's labor base in the industrial Midwest also voted for Donald Trump for president. Ryan thinks he could pull them back to the Democratic side because Trump failed to deliver on his promises to them, such as expanding health care access and taxing the rich.

But first he'd have to win the nomination and Ryan has been stuck at 1% (Quinnipiac) or less ( RealClear Politics) in polls of Democratic voters. He came in under 1% in the latest Des Moines Register/CNN Iowa Poll. "It's so noisy," he said of the crowded field, but says he's playing a" long, low-dollar game." He's spending on yard signs instead of field organizers, and plans to stay in until the early primary states, where he says he has reached 2% in polls, have voted.

So he deploys unique strategies, like standing outside football games to shake hands.

Ryan entered Congress in 2003 as its youngest member at 29. Many of his votes have been motivated by his blue-collar constituency, as he calls it, spawning some unusual stances and alliances. I had to ask why he voted against renewing the Do Not Call registry to block unwelcome phone solicitations. He was honest. "I have a lot of call centers in my district," he replied with a laugh. "We were trying to recruit workers."

When Trump last year imposed trade sanctions on China, it stoked criticism and fears of a trade war, causing stock prices to plunge. Ryan has a lot of names for Trump, none of them flattering. He calls the president ugly, scary and "a cancer in the body politic." But Ryan himself voted for trade sanctions on China, tweeting what sounded a lot like the president: "China has been cheating us for years. They manipulate their currency, steal our intellectual property, and subsidize goods coming into our country leaving American working families unable to pay their bills. I say it frankly, they need to get punched in the mouth."

Likewise, while he sounds bullish on building a renewable energy economy, Ryan isn't ready to give up on a $5 billion natural gas plant in Western Pennsylvania that he says employs 6,000 union workers at between $80,000 and $120,000 a year. "Donald can be as f----'d up as anybody but he's not going to take their jobs," he said. " So they hold their nose and vote for the sociopath."

He calls himself a "pragmatic" centrist, and laments the Democratic Party divide between left and right, faulting party leaders who advocate free health care for undocumented immigrants, when citizens have to pay for theirs.

"Diversity is our strength," he said of the Democratic Party, but "that doesn't mean you have open borders." He advocates a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants so they can work legally and join unions, which would help bring wages up for everyone.

He worries about the deficit, not something you hear many Democratic presidential contenders campaign on. He supports a public option in health coverage but not a single-payer Medicare for all system that eliminates private insurance. Instead, he favors what he calls a huge public care initiative to drive health costs down by paying people to get and stay healthy. Mostly preventable chronic diseases (like diabetes) cost $3.5 trillion a year to prevent or reverse, he says. He would incentivize healthy eating, and using "food as medicine."

 

Ryan calls himself an old-school guy from an old-school district but says he has slowly evolved from the "pro-life" stance he entered Congress with to respecting people's private decisions and believing government should have no role in them. That change came after meeting and hearing from women who had had abortions.

"The last thing you need is a bunch of white guys in Washington, D.C., dictating national policy." says the white man who once did.

He thinks he can excite the youth vote by "having a big transformational agenda" that includes revitalizing rural downtowns and making two years of college or vocational school free. Shifting from offensive (as in football) into mindfulness mode, he says he wants to "shift the conversation from higher test scores to how take care of our kids." He says many have suffered from trauma and he'd put mental health counselors in any school that needs one.

I found him most refreshing in his vision for switching away from an industrial agricultural model, a monopoly he says is destroying the soil, to a "regenerative and sustainable" one. It would reduce pesticide and fertilizer use and promote no-till farming and cover crops to get rid of algae blooms, dead zones and fish kills.

That takes some guts to advocate in a state where big ag dominates. But there's the yang and the yin again, the meditator and the quarterback.

About The Writer

Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at rbasu@dmreg.com.

(c)2019 Des Moines Register

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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