Now we can get serious about November. Gone, if Mitt Romney intends to apply sufficient pressure, are the silly and irrelevant sound-bite wars. No more “Romneyhood,” the bon mot the president is so proud of. Likewise, Mr. Romney can retire “Obamaloney” to the same schoolyard.
Besides, neither of these guys (or their writers) will ever remind anyone of Bob Hope or Rodney Dangerfield. But Paul Ryan, with his knowledge of budgets and how they work and the consequences when they don’t work, might open the conversation everyone says he wants but so far nobody will seriously engage in.
Economics is rightly called “the dismal science,” and boring economists have been known to put their lady loves to sleep during marriage proposals. But Mr. Ryan is that rare economist who makes a discussion of price signals, third-party payers and premium-support systems actually understandable and even interesting.
He has the first tool of every successful salesman: He knows the territory. The last man in Washington with a similar understanding of numbers and how to crunch them was Wilbur Mills, the small-town Arkansas banker who was once suggested as the running mate to lend gravitas to Teddy Kennedy. Mr. Mills actually kept a copy of the budget on his bedside table for bedtime reading. “Sparkle Plenty and the bag man,” one wag famously described the duo.
No one has yet described Mr. Romney as Sparkle Plenty, and Mr. Ryan is a serious and sober family man but no less addicted to numbers and crunching. If American voters who go on at length about yearning for a campaign about serious stuff actually mean it, they’ve finally got it. This is the opportunity wrought by crisis that must not go to waste.
R&R, as they’re already being called, must forgo the distractions and diversions the mainstream media, with their attention span of fruit flies, is eager to supply. Gaffes, even when they aren’t gaffes, are what most campaign correspondents most readily understand.
The Obama campaign is furiously at work to define Mr. Ryan as Darth Vader, given to invading nursing homes by night to kidnap 90-year-old ladies in wheelchairs to push them off cliffs, often with the connivance of the media. Candy Crowley of CNN, announced Monday as the moderator for a presidential debate, says the Ryan choice “looks a little bit like some sort of ticket death wish, that, oh my, do we really want to talk about these things?”
Yes, we do, because we must. All the pols, beginning with Barack Obama and Joe Biden and including all the little Democrats, agree that we should, and talk about “these things.”
Mr. Romney and his new running mate are equipped to keep the discussion focused precisely where the president, despite his boilerplate assurances, does not want the discussion to go. The Republicans could adopt as mantra that their campaign is precisely about “saving Medicare.”
If they play defense, politely reminding voters that Republicans are not as bad as they think, they lose. The choice of Mr. Ryan suggests loud and fairly clear that Mr. Romney, heretofore the usual timid Republican, understands that. “There’s only one president I know of who robbed Medicare,” he told CBS News on Sunday, “$716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare.”
He repeated the assurance to seniors, a reassurance that must be repeated a thousand times between now and Nov. 6 to allay the fears of the fragile, and sometimes greedy, that the reforms crucial to saving Medicare won’t apply to anyone over 55. Mr. Ryan took pains to say to CBS that his mother “is a Medicare senior in Florida.” (CBS, for whatever reason, edited this out of the broadcast.)
He also took pains to remind everyone that the reforms would be his, his budgets would be his. He even sent out a senior aide to remind reporters that “President Romney will be putting forward his own budget.” Just so. But there can be no running away from the point of the reforms and innovations of the Ryan budget. Mr. Romney will be tarred with that brush, anyway.
Everyone knows the inevitable awaits. Mr. Romney put down his bet that he, with Mr. Ryan’s help, can persuade Americans to put aside, if only briefly, the trivia of a culture obsessed with celebrity and entertainment and drunk on entitlement. Greece lies at the bottom of that cliff, and there is no love among the ruins.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.