Has there ever been a campaign that went, literally overnight, from being about nothing to leaping neck-deep into the most treacherous, dangerous issue in American politics? Until last night, I thought Romney was running for president because he wanted to be president, full stop. Everything about him suggested personal ambition over vision — the endless flip-flops, the extreme caution on the trail, the negative-ad carpet-bombing of Gingrich and Santorum in the primaries. Then I wake up this morning and find he’s made the boldest move on entitlement reform in modern U.S. history, all but gambling his candidacy on the public’s ability to not only see through Democratic Mediscare smears but to embrace a reform agenda. I don’t know how to process it. I respect Romney tremendously for it, but it just doesn’t compute. It’s like watching C-3PO lead the raid on the Death Star.
I’ve seen a dozen posts online this morning marveling at how he’s now abandoned his “referendum” approach to the election — i.e. “vote for me because Obama’s terrible” — in favor of a “choice” approach, but that doesn’t remotely capture the boldness of this shift. It’s not just that he’s given Obama his wish by making the election a clear choice, it’s that he’s made it a choice about the most momentous, fraught domestic policy dilemma the country’s faced in ages. Amazing. Awesome. Baffling. As someone on Twitter said this morning, imagine John Kerry in August 2004 suddenly deciding he’d had enough of attacking Bush on Iraq and that it was time to make the election a battle over whether the U.S. should have single-payer health care. This is sort of like that.
I would have voted for Ryan for president if he had run so, as you might expect, I like the pick. To me, it’s a “clear conscience” selection: We’re going to own our agenda, let our very best salesman make the pitch on the biggest possible stage, and have the country decide. If they want to send The One back for a second term knowing that the consequences are a near-term fiscal meltdown, hey, that’s democracy. At least, for once, they’ll have made a fully informed choice on this issue; if the electorate prefers the $15 Trillion-Dollar Man’s “vision” on how to solve this existential problem to Paul Ryan’s, I prefer to have a clear statement at the polls to that effect. William Saletan is almost giddy over Ryan’s selection, not because he thinks it’s a sure winner for Democrats but because we’re finally guaranteed a meaningful argument on a matter of deepest consequence by a guy who can make it better than anyone else:
Ryan refutes the Democratic Party’s bogus arguments. He knows that our domestic spending trajectory is unsustainable and that liberals who fail to get it under control are leading their constituents over a cliff, just like in Europe. Eventually, you can’t borrow enough money to make good on your promises, and everyone’s screwed. Ryan understands that the longer we ignore the debt crisis and postpone serious budget cuts—the liberal equivalent of denying global warming—the more painful the reckoning will be. There’s nothing compassionate about that kind of irresponsibility.
Maybe, like me, you were raised in a liberal household. You don’t agree with conservative ideas on social or foreign policy. But this is why God made Republicans: to force a reality check when Democrats overpromise and overspend…
Screw the polls. Republicans will be on the right side of the spending debate. They’ll be on the right side of the substance debate, too. Instead of bickering about Romney’s tax returns and repeating the obvious but unhelpful observation that the unemployment rate sucks, we’ll actually have to debate serious problems and solutions. That’s great for the country.