I found out about potential veep Paul Ryan late in the evening. The choice didn’t thrill me to my bones. Then I got up the next morning and drove Corbin and Cornelius to their soccer tournament. (They lost in a heartbreaker. They were up 2-0 at halftime, only to give up three goals in the second half.) On the way, I listened to Paul Ryan’s speech. I decided that this is a shrewd choice that has the potential to fundamentally transform the race in a way that will work to Mitt’s advantage.
The Obama administration has distinguished itself by running ads that claim Mitt gave a woman cancer and other ads narrated by Ann Romney’s horse. The goal has been to pummel voters into submission and convince them that Mitt is an unacceptable choice, so they’re painting him as a rich, unfeeling weirdo.
Now that they’re attacking Ryan for his controversial budget proposal, they don’t seem to realize that they’ve just moved on to Mitt’s turf. By criticizing economic ideas instead of equine dressage, they tacitly concede that they have to come up with ideas of their own. Sooner or later, that will blow up in their face.
What’s been especially delightful has been watching the Obama administration’s flailing attempts to demonize Ryan’s Medicare plan while trying to shore up their rear flank as Romney/Ryan rightfully criticize Obama’s decision to slash over $700 billion in Medicare funding. If the Democrats can’t scare geezers into thinking Republicans are trying to slaughter them, then they’ve pretty much got nothing.
As for the specifics of the Ryan budget, I think he takes the wrong approach with a Medicare voucher, but I admire the living snot out of the fact that he actually made a proposal that reforms entitlements. For far too long, neither political party has been willing to face the reality that it is mathematically impossible to balance the federal budget without reforming the nation’s metastasizing entitlement programs.
There’s a reason for that. These programs – Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid – are far and away the most popular programs in the federal budget. Every time someone tries to fix them – Gingrich, W., – they’re practically tarred and feathered. Yet these programs are far and away the most expensive items on the federal menu, and they currently consume nearly two-thirds of all federal spending and 100% of all tax revenue collected. In other words, every tax dollar that comes into Washington, DC goes right back out to fund these programs, and everything else the government spends is borrowed money. You could shut down everything else the government does, including the entire United States Military, but without entitlement reform, you would still have a deficit.
Paul Ryan is one of the few elected officials who understands that.
I admit his plan isn’t perfect – no legislative plan is – but it’s a starting point. If nothing else, it kicks off a dialogue that both Republicans and Democrats would much rather kick down the road. This is an issue fraught with political danger, and it is easily demagogued. Ryan himself had to endure ads depicting a Ryan look-alike hurling an elderly woman out of a wheelchair and over a cliff.
That kind of nonsense is an inexcusably flippant approach to a very serious problem. Fortunately, Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate ensures that this serious problem will now take center stage of the national debate.
This choice demonstrates that Governor Romney is willing to tackle these tough problems and face the demagoguery head on. There’s no doubt that President Obama will fervently oppose the Ryan approach, but Ryan’s presence on the ticket may force the president to move beyond demonization and come up with a few solutions of his own. Perhaps he could revisit the deficit-cutting alternatives of his own bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission, which offered substantive suggestions that the president has essentially ignored. In any case, Congressman Ryan as a vice presidential candidate will make it much harder for America to ignore this pressing problem, and with any luck, more Americans will understand the nature of a problem that Washington has spent decades avoiding.
We’ve kicked this can down the road long enough.