It is fitting that the adjective most commonly used yesterday to describe Mitt Romney's choice of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate was "bold." Prior to his selection, Ryan was already at the center of the great debate of our day: entitlement reform, which many politicians would just as soon ignore. Romney has now taken this issue head on. There is no going back, and his party should be very happy about that.
For eight decades, politicians have been stacking up promises of federal government aid. The resulting programs have been proven far too generous and too poorly managed to be realistic. The Medicare program as we know it is particularly unsustainable - even President Obama has admitted this.
By 2037, when today's thirty-somethings approach retirement, federal health care entitlements and Social Security will together consume an amount equivalent to 16 percent of the national economy, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. To put that into perspective, federal tax revenues have never exceeded 21 percent of GDP in our nation's entire history, not even when the top tax rates stood at 90 percent. Thus, in 25 years, entitlement programs will consume between 75 and 100 percent of what the federal government takes in. Even assuming the economy does not collapse under this weight, there will not be enough revenue to cover other mandatory outlays (such as debt service), and not a penny for discretionary spending (such as national defense).
Ryan is among the brave few who have pointed out the emperor's nakedness. And he is the only person in Washington with a plan that will prevent the entitlement system's complete collapse. He owns the issue, and it now becomes the issue.
Ryan brings many other assets to Romney's campaign as well - his calm demeanor, his conservative bone fides, his youth, and his incredibly deep grasp of issues where most politicians merely rely on talking points. It does not hurt that, according to polling from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, his selection will also help make Wisconsin competitive this fall.
As happy as conservatives can be about the chance to vote for Ryan, his selection should also make them more excited to vote for Romney. Romney has now demonstrated his intention to make this race into one that is characterized by important ideas, not the talking points and trivial gaffes that Americans have come to expect from their politicians. If he does triumph in spite of the Social Security and Medicare scare tactics that the Left will surely employ (in one video they have already depicted Ryan pushing an old woman off a cliff), Romney will have a clear mandate to follow through on entitlement reform. In fact, the reform itself may prove easy in comparison to the campaign.
In addition, with his choice of Ryan, Romney has given everyone a reassuring lesson about his character. Whatever faults he may have, he proved Saturday that he is not a timid and small man who fears to stand alongside one of his party's young stars, lest he be overshadowed. Nor is he afraid to work with someone whose views at times differ from his own - Ryan has, after all, criticized Romney's Massachusetts health care reforms.
In addition to framing the election with the right issues, pleasing the conservative base, and putting a key swing state in play, the choice of Ryan reinforces Romney's reputation as a practical businessman who is less concerned with claiming accolades and credit than he is with getting results. This has always been one of Romney's best qualities, and its confirmation should generate real excitement within the Republican base.