It is no longer a fresh story, but the selection of Paul Ryan as vice-presidential nominee by Mitt Romney is the most, and possibly the first, presidential act W. M. Romney has taken. After doffing his cap in every ideological and policy direction for his entire six-year charge at the Republican presidential nomination, and appearing throughout to be a conviction-free consultant whose answer to everything was a promise to look at the data and assemble the experts and trust in freedom and a cascade of platitudes, he has alit on radical fiscal responsibility and taken the Obama administration on confrontationally. Instead of waffling over the Obama effort to portray individual enterprise as the consequence of state spending and to demonize Romney himself as an asset-stripping, tax-avoiding job-outsourcer, while the administration ran for cover on the deficit and muddied the waters with a red herring about soaking the wealthiest 3 percent for the benefit of the suffering 97 percent, Romney has drawn the line in the sand on the greatest issue before the country.
WMR (a start has to be made somewhere to prevent the possible next president from being known to the world as a piece of athletic equipment) has addressed the two biggest concerns about his candidacy: that he was a consultant and not an executive, and that he had no serious plan or will to deal with the mountainous deficit piling up at $1.5 trillion per year with no sign whatever that the government has any intention of trying to deal with it. The choice of Paul Ryan should solidify Republican support and gather in even the loopiest tea-partiers.
Because Paul Ryan is eminently sane, he has laid out serious ideas to cope with the deficit and start to manage it downward — ideas that have so got under the president’s skin that Mr. Obama has reserved some of his grossest abuses of etiquette for the young congressman. He gave Ryan a treatment similar to that to which he subjected the Supreme Court: Both Ryan and the justices were invited, front-row listeners to presidential addresses in which the president abused them to their faces and misrepresented their positions.
Of all the possible presidential candidates for the Republicans, those who seemed to possess a clear idea of the nature of the present crisis and to possess a well-thought-out idea of what America is and must be were Paul Ryan, Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels, Marco Rubio, Haley Barbour, and Chris Christie (though, in Christie’s case, the U.S. should show extreme caution in elevating any alumnus of its rabid prosecution service, especially from such a rancid state as New Jersey, to the highest offices). As many, including me, have commented with concern, although WMR did not make that cut, he won the nomination anyway, and none of those who seemed to be better qualified intellectually and in policy terms sought the office.
Romney appeared to be a faction of his own that wished to fudge the issues, avoid controversy, and sail through the election on his back foot, fending off the febrile assault on his character by the incumbent. This crude smear campaign seemed to hit bottom last week as Romney was accused by a Democratic PAC of effectively causing the death of a woman from cancer. This is scraping the barrel with a squalor that normally backfires, although the Republicans have not responded as energetically as they should have. The offensive television ad, and the president’s failure to disavow it, may indicate some desperation in the Obama entourage, and cannot be helpful to the inexplicable levitation of his generally high marks as an affable chap, which is a public-relations bumblebee that has defied all norms of public-personality assessment. (There was already, however, starting to creep in the impression that the president is replicating in domestic campaign travel the peripatetic fruitlessness of his secretary of state; that he is obsessively clinging to his office, while spending much of the rest of his waking hours chain-smoking and watching basketball on television.)
This sets the scene for a refreshing ideological contrast, on the scale of those of 1964, which pitted liberal Lyndon Johnson against conservative Barry Goldwater, and 1972, between centrist-conservative Richard Nixon and left-liberal George McGovern, and the 1984 election between Mr. Ryan’s political hero Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan won by 16 million, 18 million, and almost 17 million votes: the country’s three greatest historic pluralities. McGovern and Mondale had promised tax increases. The Ryan budget, twice passed by the House under the leadership of the young congressman, would cut personal income taxes to a two-rate level of 25 and 10 percent, and corporate income taxes to 25 percent; it would farm Medicaid out in block grants to the states; and it would turn Medicare essentially into a voucher program to reinforce private-sector plans.
The Obama health-care plan would be repealed, and the stealthy abandonment of American international involvement implicit in the Obama administration’s defense-spending cuts and serene anticipation of funds sequestration would be avoided; and military spending would increase at the rate of inflation (not anticipated to be high). (Making the Ryan announcement in front of the majestic and historic battleship Wisconsin — which is named after Ryan’s home state, a swing state; and which is now a permanent memorial at Norfolk, Va. — was a fine touch.) The percentage of GDP represented by the national debt, which is now, depending on definitions, between 80 and 90 percent, would, over 25 years, decline to 10 percent, and the public-sector share of GDP would decline from 25 percent to about 18 percent.