We remember Granny. She's the helpless old lady in a wheelchair whom Rep. Paul Ryan, or somebody who was supposed to look like him, pushed over the cliff. That's the way an Obama campaign commercial attempted to demonstrate the heartlessness of the mean ol' Republicans.
But a funny thing happened on the way to November. When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, a lot of people put that video on rewind. Granny turned out to be alive and well, capable of looking at things for herself, seeing things as they really are, and she's alarmed by what she sees ahead for her children and grandchildren.
That's what the Romney-Ryan ticket is gambling on.
But something is going over the cliff, as Paul Ryan has said many times. "It's health care inflation that's driving us all off the cliff." Medicare is facing a $38 trillion unfunded liability -- $38 trillion in "empty promises" on the way toward bankruptcy.
Two years ago, Mr. Ryan was accused of wanting to change Medicare "as we know it." That's true enough. Whether he has anything to do with it or not, Medicare as we know it will change because not even America, the richest nation on earth, can afford numbers like that. Seniors know it, too. When Marco Rubio embraced Mr. Ryan's road map to Medicare survival in 2010, many Florida seniors sent him to the U.S. Senate.
What the Republican campaign promises, if the Democrats can become more truthful -- a big if -- is a forthright debate about how the economy of health care can be put on a path to provide security for Granny's children and grandchildren while keeping it going for everyone older than 55. The seniors have no selfish stake in the reform because the reforms won't apply to them. Mr. Ryan is determined, but not inflexible.
After Democrats decried his first Medicare reform plan, characterizing it as "Mediscare," he refused to fly away on a broomstick borrowed from a wicked witch. Instead, he tweaked his plan, improving the recipe to make the brew more palatable. As a result, he got Sen. Ron Wyden, an influential Oregon Democrat who sees a dark future, too, and doesn't like it, to join him.
Mr. Ryan's boyish looks and polite demeanor make him look like a candidate for president of the senior class, but he's a sophisticated thinker, a quick learner and not stubborn in the way of so many Washington pols, eager to see issues only their way.
"Ryan is a new kind of combatant," observed James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year in Commentary magazine. "He does not panic. He adjusts. And he takes the long view."
In a close analysis of Mr. Ryan's ideas, he shows how the congressman's revisions of Medicare became the default Republican budget policy. His 2012 budget won 242 House Republicans, losing just 10 members who reckoned it didn't go far enough. He demonstrated he's not radical.
Since Mitt Romney reintroduced Paul Ryan to the public, you can hear those who recently have discovered his ideas facing reality and echoing his criticism of the status quo, that Medicare is "unsustainable" and our deficits are creating "fiscal instability."
With his bold choice, Mr. Romney forces grown-ups of both parties to think less about entitlement and more about what America's future will look like if something isn't done, and soon.
Liberals profess to be delighted. They think conservative principles and ideas make a fat and easy target. They live in a comfortable bubble where every idea but their own seems alien. Mr. Ryan has a special ability to make his argument understandable, and the Internet enables him to be heard in his own clear voice.
Gil Troy, a history professor at McGill University, writing in the Wilson Quarterly, urges voters not to worry that campaigns have become equal parts carnival and obnoxious reality television. The campaigns ultimately develop a legitimate conversation that serves the best interests of the nation of 300 million. With Mr. Ryan at the ready with facts, figures and cogent arguments, that will be easier to do.
Democrats no less than Republicans understand these are serious times, and often they even say so. What Mr. Romney has offered is a serious man with serious arguments about the future of our health -- not only the health of the individual, but the health of the economy and the health of the country. Granny may yet get to speak for herself, and not from the rocks at the bottom of an ad man's cliff.
Suzanne Fields is a syndicated columnist.
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