By picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney slapped the big-boy knickers right off President Obama's backside.
During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama presented himself as the measured, sensible adult outsider who didn't play all the cheap political games you get from this crowd here in Washington. After four years in the sewer, however, he has grown those special gills that allow these people to wallow in the toxic sludge no normal human could endure.
And with his silly, pandering campaign and gutter tactics that leave Mr. Romney accused of causing a woman to die from cancer, Mr. Obama has completely shed the right to claim the adult mantle anymore.
It is true that Mr. Romney is not the perfect candidate. His record suggests pinwheel principles and his retail politicking can cause winces and cringes as he tries to understand us earthlings. The man eats fried chicken with a knife and fork. This is not normal.
But his decision to put Mr. Ryan on his ticket instantly gave Mr. Romney an entirely new focus. Instead of the bumbling rapper at a state fair talking about "bling-bling," he is the businessman, the turnaround artist we have heard so much about.
He is walking into one of the most disastrously screwed-up institutions in the world. He knows it only as an outsider but he knows it needs radical fixing. He looks around for the smartest, most knowledgeable, most brutally honest guy on the inside and says, "Hey, I need you as my right hand."
That is who Paul Ryan is. He is the go-to guy on the inside who knows what is wrong and has the endless energy to fix it. If this is how Mr. Romney approached failing companies that he took over, then it is no wonder he is such a wealthy man today.
Pundits who claim the pick was all about shoring up the right or the tea party fundamentally misunderstand conservatives, Paul Ryan and big-idea politics.
It's not that Mr. Ryan is someone sufficiently conservative or someone who will rally the tea party folks to get behind a guy who has a sad track record of being a principled conservative only at the times that helped him politically.
Rather, all the hosannas arose from the farthest quarters of the Republican Party because in his first major decision as the party's expected nominee, Mr. Romney decided to be serious. He picked one of the most — one of the only — serious people who have spent most of their adult lives working in Washington and trying to fundamentally reform it.
Mr. Romney chose the straight face of the most serious problem facing the country today. It is true that Mr. Ryan is the bearer of some grave news about what needs to be done to stop the profligate spending and how we must kick this heroin-like addiction to our children's and grandchildren's money. Of course, American voters just may not be ready to face those hard choices. But Mr. Romney chose the hard road that is the right road.
He would rather lose a serious campaign where he forces the biggest, most pressing threats to America's future than win a cheap, gutter campaign that is about nothing.
• Charles Hurt can be reached at email@example.com.