A competition of philosophies is now underway.
Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has delighted Tea Partiers, surprised the Republican establishment, and sent Democrats a clear message that this campaign will be about issues. In short, he has gone "bold" and selected Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate. The announcement was delivered at a campaign stop in Norfolk, VA prior to launching a four-day campaign tour. "He doesn't demonize his opponents. He understands that honorable people can have honest differences and he appeals to the better angels of our nature," Romney said. "He's never been content to just curse the darkness. He'd rather light candles."
The Chairman of the House Budget Committee wasted no time setting the agenda. "No one disputes that President Obama inherited a difficult situation," Ryan said. "And, in his first two years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better. In fact, we find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt and despair … Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure."
Ryan brings a lot of positives to the table. He will energize a conservative base that was decidedly lukewarm about Romney. As the architect of an economic plan aimed bringing American back to fiscal sanity, he will illuminate the stark differences between conservative values and a Democratic Party desperate to steer the conversation anywhere else. He is a big injection of charisma into a campaign that had little or none. And, as an added bonus, he puts his home state of Wisconsin in play next November.
Democrats wasted no time counterpunching, labeling Ryan as "toxic" and "politically extreme." “In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy,” wrote Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. Leftist PAC, American Bridge to the 21st Century, founded by Media Matters for America frontman David Brock, launched a new web site, MeetPaulRyan.com. The introductory paragraph warns that "the Ryan budget plan is the albatross that hangs around the neck of Republican candidates." SEIU president Mary Kay Henry contended that “Romney has shown the American people that he believes Rep. Ryan’s extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what’s right for our country,” while Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, noted that Ryan "gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer,” he added.
Republican reaction was just the opposite. "Romney-Ryan will get our fiscal house in order and get Americans working again,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said. “Governor Romney showed today that he is determined to confront a host of growing crises that President Obama has ignored,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). “Where the current president has simply refused to act, Governor Romney has now pledged to lead. Paul Ryan is an excellent choice," he added. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, echoed that sentiment. “Congratulations and blessings to my friend [Paul Ryan]. A fantastic choice and great partner to [Mitt Romney]. They will save America,” he tweeted.
In an appearance on Fox News early Saturday, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer illuminated the wisdom of choosing Ryan. First, he noted that Ryan's "Kennedy-esque boyish enthusiasm and energy" will change the complexion of Romney's campaign. Yet more importantly, Ryan "changes the dynamic of the debate--the argument from stewardship, from who can do a better job, to ideas,” said Krauthammer. “When Ryan spoke, he mentioned our rights are from nature and God. That’s a fairly fundamental idea. It isn’t even a policy. It’s a philosophy. He wants to make the debate about the philosophy of government and the policies that then follow. And I think by doing this they are now running on what is essentially an argument, ‘No to the status quo.’ It’s a complete reversal of 2008. Obama in 2008 was hope and change. ‘You don’t like status quo, we’ve got ideas.’” Krauthammer also aimed a not-so-subtle jab at the Obama campaign. "Change is now on the side of Republicans," he added.
Ryan brings blue-collar appeal to the ticket as well. The seven-term member of Congress is a fifth-generation Wisconsin native who has moonlighted as a waiter and a fitness trainer while in Washington, D.C., and an Oscar Mayer "Lunchables" salesman during his summers between college semesters. His hobbies include hunting and fishing, and his taste in music runs from Rage Against the Machine to Led Zeppelin. Much of this will undoubtedly offset Romney's elitist, out-of-touch image, along with solidifying Ryan's credentials as a man interested in making America better for all Americans.
A Romney/Ryan ticket also represents a milestone of sorts: this is the first time one of the presidential slates contains both a Mormon and a Catholic. The timing may be propitious in that the Obama administration has sought to force Catholic institutions to provide birth control, including abortifacients, to their employees, in direct contradiction to their religious principles.
In other words, that battle has been joined. Ryan brings a blast of energy to a campaign in dire need of that energy. His budgetary expertise will stand in stark contrast to a Democratic Party attempting to convince Americans they can "have it all" with respect to entitlement programs -- even as they have yet to offer even the slightest idea how a country drowning in a sea of red ink will pay for it. Ryan, who is a walking, talking encyclopedia of budgetary facts and figures, will undoubtedly press them to explain that contradiction.
Yet the choice of Ryan also says a lot about Mitt Romney. First and foremost, it demonstrates a sense of self-awareness about his own shortcomings, which like any good businessman, he has chosen to address. Picking Ryan, who may outshine him, also reveals a willingness by Romney to manage his ego, as does his willingness to adopt Ryan's budget strategy as his own. Romney has also turned a race that was rapidly becoming a mudfest into one of competing visions of the future of the nation--at a time when that future is very much at stake. And finally, a man with a reputation for playing it safe has suddenly shown a determination to take the kind of risk no one expected to take, revealing a strength of character in the process.
One line in Ryan's acceptance speech summed up the essential difference between the campaigns. "If you have a small business, you did build that," he said. That's starkly different from president Obama's agenda for the future. And in a presidential election, few things are better that well-illuminated differences in agendas. Courtesy of Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Americans now have a clear set of choices in November -- possibly the clearest one in quite some time.
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