Paul Ryan's Gen X sensibilities an asset

Ryan: 'We have a normal life'
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Story highlights

  • Paul Ryan is the first member of Gen X named to top of a major party ticket
  • He came of age during an economic recession and the dot-com boom and bust
  • His views on economy and social policy have Gen X influences, political experts say
  • Ryan's relative youth helps Romney's appeal

Republican vice-presidential hopeful and conservative star Paul Ryan kicks back with locally brewed beers while listening to '90s-era grunge music. He's the first member of Generation X to be named to a major party ticket.

Ryan's up-by-your-bootstraps personality doesn't exactly match the ennui expressed by the grunge bands of his youth -- he was voted "biggest brown-noser" in high school, after all. But his economic and political perspectives, like those of many of his generation, were formed in part by the fiscally conservative Reaganomics principles of his childhood and the stark realities of entering a post-college job market during the 1990s recession and dot-com boom and bust.

"Gen Xers were supposed to be the lost generation. (That label) shaped him because he went back to the principles of hard work to get ahead," said Dylan Glenn, a former Bush administration economic policy analyst who has been friends with Ryan for nearly 20 years.

In his pairing with baby boomer Mitt Romney, the 42-year-old Ryan brings a conservative Gen Xer's fiscal approach to the ticket, political experts say. For example, Ryan's controversial "Path to Prosperity" entitlement reform plan, which proposes a partially privatized Medicare program for future seniors, takes a cue from Gen X and Gen Y concerns that these programs will run out of funds long before Xers and Yers will be able to participate.

"There are plenty of young people who do not believe Medicare and Social Security are going to be there, and that's part of the logic why Paul Ryan is trying to reform these things and make sure they are available for future generations," said Soren Dayton, communications director for the Young Republican National Federation.

Paul Ryan: I'm a policy person
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Paul Ryan heckled at Iowa State Fair
Paul Ryan heckled at Iowa State Fair

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Ryan's conservative stance extends beyond fiscal policy

It is a proposal that Romney has not fully embraced.

His campaign told surrogates in a talking points memo obtained by CNN on Saturday: "Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance."

Still, Ryan's history-making ascension to the ticket does suggest that the GOP is turning a page in leadership.

"This is a young generation of leadership coming forward," said Andra Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta who has studied post-civil rights era politicians.

Passing the torch requires that both generations of the party's leadership agree to disagree on social policy, she said.

"A lot of young Republicans don't agree with the party on a lot of social issues so they emphasize the fiscal stuff," Gillespie said.

Ryan opposes same-sex marriage and, as a devout Roman Catholic, once described himself as "pro-life as a person gets." However, in 2007, he voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A Pew Research Poll conducted last month of nearly 3,000 adults found that support for allowing same-sex marriage has increased among Generation X from 44% in 2008 to 52% this year.

"Paul Ryan is a bridge between, generationally speaking," said Amy Holmes, anchor of GBTV's "Real News" at the Blaze, a conservative news site owned by Glenn Beck. Ryan "voted for banning workplace discrimination based on sexual discrimination. That's a reflection in part of the Gen X sensibility. We've grown up with gay men and women being out of the closet. ... It's not as shocking as it is for boomers."

Ryan's college years

Ryan's tepid support for environmental programs also seems to dovetail with Gen Xers' views on the matter.

According to a recent University of Michigan Institute for Social Research survey of 3,000 adults, just 5% of Gen Xers said they are "alarmed" and 18% said they are "concerned" about climate change. Most of the group surveyed last year, or 66%, said they're unsure if global warming is happening, and 10% said they don't believe it's occurring.

Those generational differences could help sway voters turned off by the GOP's messaging on social issues such as abortion, but who are open to Republican stances on necessary budget cuts.

Then there's the visual appeal of Ryan, who is the same age as one of Romney's sons. When Ryan stands on stage, flanked by his young children and wife, next to the Romneys, the older man looks warmer and more paternal, Gillespie said.

"Mitt Romney is extremely stiff ... because he still has this persona where it hard for him to feel relatable. To have someone who is young and dynamic helps soften Romney up and attracts that 'it' factor and 'wow' factor," Gillespie said.

"Paul Ryan would seem to be cooler. Even talking about the fact that he listens to Led Zeppelin and grunge. ... The fact that he says he likes hard rock makes him seem cooler. ... That charisma is born in youth."

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