I was scheduled to be on CNN early Saturday morning, but got bumped because of the day’s big news: Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his VP pick.
While I wasn’t happy to have woken up at 5:30 for no reason (the baby woke up shortly thereafter, so I guess it’s all a wash) I’m quite intrigued by the Ryan pick. I think it bodes well for a campaign that may actually be about something serious, and will present a real choice between two different philosophies.
Campaigns in general have a tendency to center on small issues — who had a “gaffe” on which day, what the day’s optics might be. Quotes get taken completely out of context, people feign great offense about only mildly offensive things. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has been over 8 percent for years, the national debt is out of control and there’s a widespread sense of diminished expectations.
Whatever you think about Ryan — and I’m sure there’s plenty to criticize, all of which we’ll learn soon — he’s made his name by daring to talk about a big issue: entitlements. Social Security and Medicare consume huge and growing chunks of the federal budget, yet they’ve long seemed politically sacrosanct. People feel they’ve “paid in” — though really all taxes are about paying in for goods and services potentially received at some other time — and get very upset about them being touched in a way they don’t get upset about, say, road paving budgets. Politicians know this, of course, and many a campaign has centered on accusing one’s opponent of doing something awful with these political third rails.
But eventually something has to be done to either reform these entitlements, wind them down, or make them more sustainable. I have my own political opinions on what should be done, but we can’t pretend that nothing should be done. All reforms will cause pain to someone, whether it’s higher taxes or lower benefits in whatever form that takes (means testing, raising retirement ages, vouchers, etc.) Refusing to talk seriously about this is just, well, silly.
By choosing Ryan as his VP pick, Romney is showing he’s up for having an election about actual issues that actually affect lots of people (as opposed to a host of meaningless red meat, be it banning extremely rare abortion procedures, rallying against Islamic cultural centers in downtown Manhattan, etc.). For that we can be grateful. I’m hoping to see a serious debate about what future federal budgets will look like — and hoping Romney’s opponent will step up to the plate with his vision too.