Anyone who reads my stuff knows that I am a fan of Paul Ryan. Fourteen months ago I wrote that Washington is broken because “we don’t have enough Paul Ryans.”
But as much as I like the guy, Romney’s pick of Ryan for the VP slot came as a surprise to me. There were other candidates who many legitimately characterized as safer or more politically strategic. Choosing Ryan was a gutsy call. Talking heads like Dan Rather call it “toxic” for the Romney ticket and worse. But it offers a huge upside. And for me, it answers the biggest and most important question about Romney.
The attack on Ryan is that he’s “extreme” – a hawk on deficit and senior entitlement challenges. It’s made by those who label anything unique as “extreme.”
There’s no question that Ryan is unique by Washington standards. He’s a young 42-year-old who has spent a third of his life as a stellar congressman. He’s a Republican who’s reelected every two years by a huge margin from a blue district. He does his homework and knows what he talks about. There is nothing lockstep about Ryan. He acts on principal, not on a compulsion to protect his personal position. He is brutally honest with the truth. He doesn’t finesse facts and will call out those who do, even the most powerful. He completely rejects the popular, almost universally accepted, notion that smart politicians should never get specific on the toughest issues of the day.
Ryan’s intellectual honesty and determination to do his job have made him a popular target. When he unveiled his long-term plan as House Budget Committee Chairman, it was clear to everyone that he was going to tell it like it is and not duck historically taboo senior entitlement reform issues. Although many applauded his political courage, he quickly became the bull’s eye. Obama immediately fabricated scenarios about Ryan’s plan to scare seniors and to demonize the entire effort. The media followed suit, with websites popping up that attacked Ryan personally. Even Donald Trump, now a devout Republican, called Ryan’s honesty a “Death Wish” for the Republican party. Trump’s attack was not directed at the substance of Ryan’s ideas, only at the fear that Ryan’s candor would spook “scared seniors” who can’t handle the truth.
This is why Romney’s pick of Ryan has so many Democratic strategists dancing in the streets and so may Republican strategists crying in their beers. They all believe that the American public is too dumb to handle a Paul Ryan. The premise is that most voters could never stomach the real facts and have no capacity to get beyond headlines that can be easily twisted to characterize Ryan as a numbers nut who has no heart.
Ryan might prove them all wrong. Beyond his obvious appeal to the Republican base, he has what it takes to attract seniors, young voters, and independents. He’s a detailed guy who absorbs facts and knows his stuff, and usually it’s no contest when he’s goes head-to-head against someone who tries to confuse, understate or twist the truth.
But Ryan’s strength goes far beyond his capacity to understand details. He has the ability to develop specific, forward-focused solutions that are full of heart. He has a knack for passionately communicating his ideas in terms that can be understood by anyone who is willing to listen. He’s positive, energetic, and disciplined. His smile is natural, nothing forced. Above all, he’s completely credible and likable. He has personally lived the promise of America that he feels so strongly about. And he’s a problem solver with an open mind who regularly challenges others to come forth with their ideas and solutions.
We will know shortly whether the strategists’ gloom and doom predictions about Ryan are accurate. But no matter the outcome, countless Americans will benefit by getting to know Ryan better as he takes his place on center stage over the next few months.
Ryan will inspire hope for the future. His character, demeanor, and competence will stand in stark contrast to those of destructive, old relics like Harry Reid and Joe Biden.
Ryan will force a more enlightened and detailed dialogue on critical issues that most want to ignore or dismiss with useless, misleading lip service. His presence on the Romney ticket has already forced his opposition to step up their defense of the do-nothing approach to deficit and senior entitlement reforms by creating phony benchmark comparisons, perpetuating the myth that the trust funds are real, and using Biden to make baseless Social Security “guarantees,”
Many more will learn of Ryan’s ideas and discover that the “extreme” claims aren’t credible. Unlike some, Ryan doesn’t propose debt freezes or draconian spending cuts. But he does understand that we are on an unsustainable course that will forever weaken our economy and threaten an unprecedented debt crisis – the kind of crisis that would force abrupt, painful cuts in Social Security and Medicare, badly damage the dollar, and usher in a horribly dark economic period that could outlive all our kids.
Ryan advocates a patient, disciplined return to historical, pro-growth spending and revenue levels by taking measured steps to slow the growth rate of future spending and to foster real growth that will produce more taxpayers, higher income levels across the board, and much stronger government revenues. He knows that nothing will work long term unless the two behemoths, Social Security and Medicare, are strengthened and preserved by shoring up current benefits for those who are at or near retirement, providing all others something much better than the status quo, and ending the deceptive practice of making promises that will never be funded and can never be paid.
But, hands down, the most significant aspect of Ryan’s pick as the VP candidate is what it says about Romney. It’s huge. It eliminates the fear that Romney will play it safe and soft pedal specifics on fiscal discipline and senior entitlements during the balance of the campaign and, if elected, during his first term. Why is that such a big deal? That’s what next week’s article is all about. Stay tuned.