COLUMBIA — Mitt Romney's Aug. 11 naming of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential candidate for November's presidential election has, as expected, evoked a deluge of pro and con commentary.
Romney's selection of Ryan has garnered an enthusiastic response from the Republican right, a cautious approval from Republican moderates, a wait-and-see from Independents, mixed reviews from serious Democrats and disdain and the usual fear mongering from the left. Conservatives hail Ryan as a young and attractive candidate who understands the budget, deficits and taxes and who will bring a fresh face and fiscal sanity to the table.
Democrats portray him as a radical, the architect of the evil Republican plan to destroy Medicare, a proponent of tax cuts for the wealthy and a pro-life and practicing Catholic, an officer in the GOP's war on women. The White House chimes in with its familiar and tiresome "blame Bush" tactics, accusing Ryan of voting in step for that administration's reckless policies that bloated the deficit and destroyed the economy.
So, we see that everything is proceeding as normal on the road to the presidency. The selection of a vice presidential candidate, while lauded by the respective parties as bringing any number of virtues and values to the contest, is usually the recipient of nods or yawns from the voting public. One may be reminded of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's veep, John Nance Garner, who, when asked of the value of the vice president replied, in the cleaned-up version: "Not worth a bucket of warm spit."
As an example, we can look back on the 2008 campaign and the selections of vice presidential candidates. Sen. John McCain chose the animated and photogenic Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, to energize an otherwise dull campaign, while the Democrats chose Delaware's Sen. Joe Biden to add gravitas and wisdom to the ticket, which featured the charismatic but somewhat inexperienced Barack Obama at the top.
Neither produced the desired effect. There are conflicting opinions as to whether former Gov. Palin was an asset or a bust. At any rate, the McCain-Palin ticket did not come away a winner. And, whatever former Sen. Biden might have provided the Obama presidency, neither gravitas nor wisdom comes to mind.
So, what does Mr. Ryan bring to the campaign? For starters, he has drafted a budget, a plan the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 requires from each house of Congress annually by April 1. It's a task the Congressional Democrats have not accomplished for three years. Despite the howls that the "Ryan Budget" will bankrupt Social Security and Medicare, favor the wealthy and throw Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Earl, Aunt Edna and all of the children under the bus, it is the only document at hand that Congress has for use as a starting point.
Next, we move on to health care, the Affordable Care Act about which former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed so famously, "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it." It is probable that Mr. Ryan might be the only one who has read the bill and knows what is contained therein.
As a consequence, Ryan joined forces with Oregon's Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden to come to an agreement to reform Medicare, using Wyden's Healthy Americans Act to temper the version of premium support envisioned in the original Ryan budget. The compromise retained the traditional fee for service as an option and requires the private plans be at least as comprehensive as Medicare.
At the age of 42, the prospective vice president injects youth and vibrancy into the campaign, not unlike that offered by the current president four years ago. He is also, hands-down, the most knowledgeable member in matters of the budget and fiscal policies and is a studious and disciplined politician whose leadership style seals his future as a player.
He is issue-oriented but also personable and thoughtful, introducing a creative approach to problem solving. He will make his case for a limited government, conservative Romney-Ryan ticket, advocating a return to fiscal responsibility through commensurate spending cuts.
As soon as the sideshow issues, such as Gov. Romney's tax returns, Bain Capital, "Mediscare," Todd Akin and the ever-present allegations that Republicans are for dirty air and water and against women, the working poor and the middle class, grow tiresome, the serious campaigning can begin.
While those aforementioned irrelevancies may be effective demagoguery in firing up the base, the bread and butter issues — jobs, the economy, the growing deficit and entitlement reform — will decide the election.
And, who knows? Perhaps Mr. Ryan as Vice President Ryan and president of the Senate can lend his budgetary skills to that body of Congress and guide it through its first budget submission in four years?