Ryan Changes the Race

August 11, 2012     
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Who says vice president picks do not matter? Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate changes the race decisively. Romney made a bold move to hinge his candidacy on a forward-looking promise to change the way that the United States government taxes and spends its money. That is Ryan’s single most passionate issue. It is the issue that brought him to national attention. It is the issue that transformed him from a small midwestern voice into a major media presence.

Ryan is risky because he is on record as favoring major cuts in federal entitlement spending, especially for the costly Medicare program that pays the health expenses of so many aging citizens. This program is bankrupting our country, but it is vital for the medical sustenance of millions of families. Ryan is uncertain because he is largely defined by this one issue, but still unknown, even in his home state of Wisconsin. He has not, in fact, been a major participant in the recent debates about the future of the state’s government or the attempted recall of Governor Scott Walker. Ryan is a seven-term congressman who has represented a district that centers on the small and depressed city of Janesville, that lost its largest employer, a General Motors auto plant. The city has had an unemployment rate around 10 percent for more than two years.

Ryan’s presence will shift the presidential debate toward questions about the future of the American economy. How will the respective candidates get the economy moving again? How will they reform fiscal policy for growth and fairness? How will they invest in the country’s future? These are the issues Ryan will hit in all of his appearances. These are the issues that will define him and Romney’s judgment in associating his campaign with him.

I am not sure that the American public will gravitate to Ryan’s vision. I am not sure that he will prove persuasive outside pockets of fiscal conservatism. I do believe, however, that he will turn the so far vapid presidential debate into a discussion about what kind of country Americans want to build, how they want to spend their money, and who should pay. These are the decisive questions for both domestic and foreign policy. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will have to say much more about what they hope to do if elected. Observers of all political stripes should be grateful that Ryan’s choice encourages more substance and vision, not just our recent politics as usual.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of either Global Brief or the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.

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