I was trying to put together my feelings about the Rep. Paul Ryan pick for VP this morning, and this came to mind.
(My friend, Sonny Bunch, who is a walking IMDB whom you should read frequently, thought of the same movie, foiling my originality but confirming the metaphor is valid.)
With the Ryan pick, Romney signaled he welcomes a showdown on the biggest issues of our time even when discussing them can be politically daunting. President Obama’s latest, dippy, face-to-the-camera ad in Virginia says the choice between his leadership and Romney’s couldn’t be bigger, and Romney has now gamely agreed with the president, showing he believes the contrast works in his favor. The man who walked into the sun in Norfolk, Va. today is not the one Obama expected to face.
The last line of that Obama ad is, “Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face, it couldn’t be bigger.” I predict we have no idea just how small politics can seem until Team Obama goes to demagoguing Ryan, but the Romney bet is that Ryan has what it takes to counteract it. A well-known Romney surrogate told me a couple weeks before the VP pick that Romney never put Ryan in the category of “risky” pick, as conventional wisdom did. Romney wanted a guy he knew could step into the arena on day one, hit the stump and every Sunday show, and come out clean. Through that lens, Ryan became a safe pick, not a risky one.
He’s young, good-looking, fresh-faced, and smarter than arguably anyone else on budget issues. It’s hard to make the small-town Wisconsin boy into an evil administrator of death to the elderly, though Democrats will certainly try. In fact, as I was trying to put my thoughts together on the Ryan pick, after “Tombstone,” this is what went through my head.
The fact he’s already got an Internet meme to commemorate his dreaminess is certainly not a strike against him.
Liberals are positively gleeful that Romney has picked someone whose positions they can gleefully demagogue. But there’s another sense, even among national political reporters, that Team Obama should be careful what it wishes for.
Howard Fineman tweeted shortly after the news broke, “My sense is that Dems should be careful what they wish for. Yes Ryan budget cuts Medicare. But he is best upbeat conserv since RR [Ronald Reagan] and Kemp. Also Ryan is nice family guy from what we know, Catholic conservative with a folksy touch. You can’t win without majority of Catholics.” Marc Ambinder described him generously as “[y]oung, dynamic, Midwestern, fluent in wonk-speak, conveys a sense of urgency about problems facing America, not scary, base energizing.”
These plaudits from the press will likely last no longer than a day, but I think they speak to a truth about liberals, who are so quick to assume everyone will evaluate Ryan the same way they do they’re in danger of not seriously considering this showdown. And, some polls suggest Ryan’s plan isn’t quite as easy a target as they think.
The political press and President Obama alike claim they want a campaign about big ideas, an adult debate about policy differences. Now they’ve got it in spite of, not because of, Barack Obama. With Ryan on the ticket, the debate should no longer be about contraception and the deferred cancer-causing capabilities of Bain investments. It will be about the budget and the $16-trillion debt, the unsustainable trajectory of the federal government and the promises it’s already breaking to generations to come. It will be about Simpson-Bowles and a federal government that hasn’t even bothered to pass a budget since before the iPad existed. It will be about how four years of grossly increased spending has stimulated us into the worst recovery in American history, unless you happen to be an Obama donor or crony. It will be about how creating new entitlement programs cannot possibly fix the ones that are already broken. And, it will be about whether we value an ever more dependent society or an ever more successful one.
As Ryan said this morning, it will be about, “what kind of country we want to be” and “what kind of people we want to be.” Romney and Ryan have signaled their faith in the American people to be brave, smart, and yes, hopeful enough to deal with the tough choices and real changes President Obama has spent four years evading and exacerbating.
It is not without risk. Their bet is that the wisdom of the American people is still one of the best bets you can make. I hope they’re right. The thing about taking this risk is the choice is clear. If you lose, you go down fighting. If you win, you really win.
And, as Doc Holliday might say, Ryan and Obama have unfinished business. All right, let’s do it.
(Yes, there is a long-standing debate about whether Val Kilmer says “I’m your huckleberry” or “I’m your hucklebearer,” but I went with the more widely recognized interpretation. And, for the hand-wringers out there, none of this post, of course, should be taken to suggest I endorse an actual shoot-out over federal spending.)