[N]o matter whom Republican Mitt Romney finally taps as his vice presidential nominee, Democrats will accuse this person of crimes against common decency and fairness. This person will, you can bet, be indicted as someone hellbent on “dismantling” Social Security, sacrificing Medicare to the gods of social Darwinism and “slashing” the safety net into worthless tatters.

If that’s the case, why not pick a politician who actually speaks about reforming entitlement programs in a serious way? Someone who has actually come up with some ideas that reach beyond platitude? Rep. Paul Ryan, who was spotted pushing a frail wheelchair-bound elderly woman off a cliff in a political ad last year, is really the only person on the shortlist we keep hearing about who fits the bill…

Of course, the veep pick is perhaps the most overvalued decision of a presidential race. Put it this way: If the vice president had any effect on your chances, Obama would be down 20 points by now. Ryan, though, would add a measure of number-crunching earnestness to a campaign (and then, more importantly, should it happen, to an administration) that lives on broad strokes.

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The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline.

Against the advice of every Beltway bedwetter, he has put entitlement reform at the center of the public agenda—before it becomes a crisis that requires savage cuts. And he has done so as part of a larger vision that stresses tax reform for faster growth, spending restraint to prevent a Greek-like budget fate, and a Jack Kemp-like belief in opportunity for all. He represents the GOP’s new generation of reformers that includes such Governors as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

As important, Mr. Ryan can make his case in a reasonable and unthreatening way. He doesn’t get mad, or at least he doesn’t show it. Like Reagan, he has a basic cheerfulness and Midwestern equanimity.

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The idea that Ryan is too important to steal away from the House Budget Committee is also a misapprehension. He’s done his work there. Now, anyone else can take up the template.

At the end of the day, Ryan is not such an odd match for Romney. It would be characteristic for Romney to consider his VP choice as an employment decision. And characteristic for him to hire a wonky young talent. If Ryan had been into finance instead of politics back in the 1990s, you could easily see Romney picking him up for Bain Capital.

Romney is, at bottom, a data-driven technocrat. The question has always been whether he wants to bring that skill to managing the federal government — or transforming it. If he chooses Ryan, the answer is inarguably transforming it.

Ryan would be Romney’s adjutant in the most consequential turnaround operation of the former Massachusetts governor’s career.

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This points to Romney’s challenge, and it is a significant one. Obviously, he needs to remind swing voters of all the things about the Obama tenure that they do not like, but he also must counter Obama’s negative campaign. He cannot allow himself to be tagged as a capitalist pig whose only goal is personal enrichment. Instead, he must aggressively and constantly push the idea that he is a decent, public-spirited man whose background is precisely what this country needs.

This is why a bold vice presidential selection is a good start. A vibrant, articulate conservative who can make the positive case for a change would be an important signal that Team Romney understands it is not enough to get the country to say “no” to Obama, but also say “yes” to Romney. Beyond that, while the Tampa convention should toss out plenty of red meat to conservatives, it must dedicate much more effort to promoting Romney as the best leader to fix our problems. Similarly, during the ad wars and the fall debates, Romney must not focus singularly on the case against Obama – the president has made that himself over three years of bad governance – but dedicate substantial effort to making the case for himself.

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Further, this Republican noted, to select Ryan would link Romney to the remarkably unpopular Congress.

“He has all the baggage of the House,” said the senator. “To win this race, we’re going to have to show independents we can govern and our congressional approval rating is pretty bad.”

Tony Fabrizio, a GOP pollster, said a gamble on Ryan would be out of character for Romney.

“I’m not convinced of what he net delivers for Romney — I think there’s good points about Ryan but I think there’s bad points about Ryan,” Fabrizio said. “Romney has been very careful not to embrace the Medicare cuts in the Ryan budget. If he puts him on the ticket, what does he do? There’s no question he’s a star and he’s probably got a very bright future, but for a guy who has played it remarkably safe, to take on [Ryan] is just probably not where he’s going to be.”

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One of the most curious — and little known — facts about Ryan is that he is not a terribly political creature, preferring to immerse himself in the wonkiness of budgets rather than study the ebbs and flows of the electorate. (In keeping with that policy focus, Ryan lacks any significant political/consulting team around him.)

That may be all well and good for a Member of Congress but a lack of interest/acumen for the political game isn’t a good thing in a vice presidential nominee…

Romney badly needs a vice presidential pick who can be a political asset not a neutral force politically or even a political liability. Ryan could be that on the campaign trail but based on what we know now, picking him would be a clear risk for Romney.

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It seems there’s a division of opinion over Ryan in GOP circles between what Politico calls the “go bold crowd” and the “cautious corner.” I have somewhat different names for them. How about the totally Beltwayized and out of touch with America clique versus the people who retain some remnants of common sense?…

Someone once said of the Iraq war that it never would have happened if 30 important neoconservatives and neoliberals hadn’t been for it. This is kind of like that. Ryan’s appeal is almost strictly to conservative intellectuals and their wannabees. It’s a ridiculous, feather-headed idea, the kind of thing that conservatives like to make fun of liberals about, for being out of touch. And mark my words: He would hurt–yes, hurt–the ticket in Wisconsin. Not that it’s much up for grabs anyway, but he would.

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