By Josiah Cantrall
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
He's only been on the ticket a couple days, but Paul Ryan has already changed the race. It was a bold move on Romney's part, and some see it as the culmination of his journey as a conservative. Pollsters have immediately zeroed in on Ryan's appeal as a Catholic from a Midwestern swing state with an uncanny ability to articulate complex issues. While all of this is true, the real danger for the President is Paul Ryan's ability to bring the national conversation back to real policy differences.
Both his detractors and supporters agree--Democrats are going giddy about attacking his ideas on the national debt and entitlement reform. This excitement could fade rather quickly, however, as discussions on Ryan's vision for America will invariably lead to Obama's record as President of America.
Ryan's extensive policy positions don't come without risk though. In 2010, Ryan was accused of planning to eliminate Medicaid and attack ads featured him pushing seniors off a cliff. Though this claim earned PolitFact's 2011 "lie of the year" award, Democrats will no doubt use it again.
Except Paul Ryan isn't afraid of having this discussion.
Not only is Medicare unable to pay for itself, it has over $38 trillion in unfunded liabilities and it's expected to become insolvent by 2024. Faced with this reality, Ryan's plan seeks to preserve Medicare by encouraging new program enrollees to buy private health insurance with government funds. His plan doesn't impact anyone over the age of 55.
Though Ryan excels at articulating his plan in any setting, the modern Twitter age of 140 character missives has made messaging even simpler. One social media ready response could be, "Medicare is broke, so why did Obamacare cut $700 billion in Medicare funding?"
Ryan ensures this question will be asked, and it's a politically perilous debate for his adversaries to engage in. More importantly, it brings attention back to the contentious issue of Obamacare.
Republicans see this as a winning issue and have already announced their intention to press it. During a tour of Florida Mitt Romney questioned Obama's cuts to Medicaid, and a leaked congressional campaign memo from Republican leadership said, "Any opportunity we have to talk about ObamaCare, and the $700 billion in Medicare cuts that paid for it, is an opportunity that we will never pass up. Democrats are asking us for it."
The letter went on to argue that Ryan's candidacy and Medicaid debate will enable Republicans to "chase" Democrats "off the field on something they want to talk about."
Potentially, any policy debate over Ryan's views could result in Democrats "leaving the field."
Like Vice-Presidential candidates before him, Ryan's intellectual leadership and governing capabilities are sure to come under intense scrutiny. Unlike Senate Democrats, however, who haven't passed a real budget in three years, Ryan has both crafted and passed numerous budget plans. If voters begin asking why the government doesn't have a budget, Ryan will be given another opportunity to showcase his alternative plans and fiscal expertise.
Case in point, back in February during a house budget committee hearing, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner found himself debating Ryan on the President's 2013 Budget request. Finally, Geithner was forced to admit, "We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is that we don't like yours."
That's the danger of Paul Ryan. As Romney's running mate, he deftly moves the national conversation towards our nation's crushing debt, our out of control spending, and our runaway entitlement programs.
Americans are looking for leaders who offer real solutions rather than empty rhetoric. People are desperate. The nation is facing its 41st straight month of an unemployment rate over 8%, GDP growth continues to shrink, and more people are currently on food stamps than in any other time in U.S. history.
Negative personal attacks aren't going to bring back jobs or put food on the table for hungry families. America needs to hear about real policy differences and how our leaders plan to protect our fiscal solvency. Paul Ryan's candidacy ensures this will be a debate worth having.