- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2011

There is a potential presidential candidate whom almost every Republican wants. This person would not only galvanize the GOP base, but attract large numbers of independents and centrists as well. He would smash President Obama in 2012 and probably win by a landslide. He is Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

More than Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich - or any other possible “first-tier” candidate - the House Budget Committee chairman would be the most formidable challenger. He is smart, articulate and principled. He has name recognition. He possesses superb instincts and considerable political experience. Moreover, he has genuine star power: No other Republican can appeal to every faction in the party - economic conservatives, Tea Partyers, national security hawks, nationalists, libertarians, moderates and the establishment.

He is the only national GOP leader who is truly serious about confronting America’s central problem: the debt crisis. Radical Islam, China, immigration, unemployment, abortion, gay marriage - they do not matter in the end if America is broke. A bankrupt nation cannot win its wars, secure its borders, revive its economy or even enforce its laws. This is the tragedy of the Third World. Once a country goes down that ruinous path, it is almost impossible to reverse course. Mr. Ryan understands that the United States is on the verge of becoming Greece.

Mr. Obama is doing what no other president has done: He is completing America’s transformation into a cradle-to-grave welfare state. Like most liberals, Mr. Obama is not only anti-American, he is a cultural Europeanist. His agenda is Europeanization: socialized medicine, government day care, heavy regulations on business, a vast public sector, carbon taxes, unlimited immigration and a softer foreign policy. His big-government policies have failed to restore economic growth and deepened the recession. His nearly $1 trillion stimulus package was a bust. His record deficit spending is frightening away investors and stifling the private sector. Obamacare is a multitrillion-dollar entitlement program that will break the country’s financial back. Mr. Obama has doubled the national debt. Obamanomics - borrow, spend and borrow - is pushing the United States toward national bankruptcy.

Hence, the country is facing a double-dip recession - maybe even a Great Depression. Consumer confidence is lagging. Manufacturing is weak. Growth is anemic. Unemployment remains high. Inflation is on the rise. Gas prices are soaring. The banking and housing sectors are flat, unable to shake off their heavy debt loads. Our economic crisis - fueled by reckless spending and runaway deficits - threatens to cripple us. The Obama administration inherited a mess and turned it into a disaster.

Mr. Ryan is the anti-Obama. He wants to pull America back from the brink. His budget plan restores fiscal responsibility. He has shown unusual courage in a city dominated by craven politicians and slick con men. His policy blueprint slashes more than $6 trillion from future deficits, reining in out-of-control spending. His tax-reform proposal would stimulate growth, end gimmicky tax breaks and foster entrepreneurship.

Most important, his plan addresses the heart of the debt crisis: entitlements. Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare are depleting the federal treasury. Without massive entitlement reform, America’s economic position is unsustainable. The most urgent is Medicare. Aging baby boomers are putting a tremendous strain on the health care sector; the program’s costs are exploding. Mr. Ryan rightly argues that the government system can no longer afford simply to cover every elderly person’s fees. Hence, he champions “premium supports” - providing each senior with at least $15,000 (maybe more for the poor or the very sick) to purchase his own private health insurance from a range of government-approved options. His plan promotes market reforms, competition and consumer choice - the very things needed to contain skyrocketing costs and impose fiscal discipline while preserving access to quality care.

Democrats are demonizing the Ryan plan. They argue that it “will end Medicare as we know it” and throw seniors into the snow. Mr. Obama’s team is convinced it has a killer issue for 2012: Stop the GOP’s alleged assault on Medicare. In the recent special congressional election in New York, Democrats used the “Mediscare” campaign to devastating effect. One reason is that the Republican nominee was unable - and unwilling - to forcefully defend the Ryan plan. Democrats think they can replicate that strategy on a national level.

Mr. Obama is a shameless demagogue. “Medicare as we know it” cannot be saved; to suggest otherwise is mendacious and irresponsible. Either it is revamped or it will go broke. This is the choice. Mr. Ryan’s great gift is not only that his ideas can fix a broken system, but that he can articulate them in a simple manner that resonates with voters.

Mr. Ryan’s appeal is that he is a patriot. He is willing to put country above power. More important, he is willing to tell Americans the painful truth: We are in decline. Following statist Europe is the path of economic suicide and moral decay. The entire Obama presidency has sought to refute the very traits that have made America unique and great - limited government, federalism, reverence for the Constitution, unadulterated capitalism and the belief in U.S. exceptionalism. A Ryan candidacy would offer a potent reformist alternative to Mr. Obama’s reactionary vision.

It’s time for a draft Ryan movement. History is calling him.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.