“Liberals“, Mary Katharine Ham observes echoing a point heard round the blogosphere, “are positively gleeful that Romney has picked someone whose positions they can gleefully demagogue. But there’s another sense, even among national political reporters, that Team Obama should be careful what it wishes for.”
They should be careful particularly because Paul Ryan is, in many ways, the exact opposite of Barack Obama. To be sure, they are both relatively young men who are intelligent and speak well.
Mr. Obama, however, gained acclaim not for the policy proposals he authored nor the reforms he had championed, but instead for the words he spoke and the image he projected. The Democrat earned the affection of liberals by his successful creation of that image, the reformer who would stand up to entrenched interests and end politics as usual. He just didn’t specify how he would accomplish all that nor could he point to actual entrenched interests he had challenged or political systems he had changed.
The Democratic glee comes from the fact that Ryan is quite the opposite of Mr. Obama, having staked out clearly the kinds of policy proposals he favors and the reforms, he believes, America needs in order to forestall the looming fiscal crisis.
It’s much easier to run against particular policies than it is to run against the idealized image of the change agent we have been waiting for.
In doing the hard work of translating his ideas into policies, Ryan has earned the affection of many conservatives and libertarians, including yours truly. And that is why, to borrow Mary Katharine’s expression, Team Obama should be careful what it wishes for. Yes, those policies may make him a target for Democrats, but they all show him to be a serious man with a plan. And this may be the year when Americans want leaders with just such a plan.
Ryan is very much the un-Obama, a man whose success depends not on a vague promise, but on an actual record. And with a near-stagnant economy and skyrocketing deficits, Americans may prefer Ryan’s stern substance to Obama’s lofty potential, still not realized after three-and-one-half years in office.
Democrats may be chomping at the bit to demonize Ryan for his plan, yet the Wisconsin Republican has shown the capacity to defend his plan and the imperative to make tough choices about our nation’s finances. Thus, writes Jonathan Tobin in Commentary, “there is no guarantee that the liberals’ bet that scare tactics will prevail over the demand for rational reform will not prevail.”
And Paul Ryan has proven to be a champion of rational reform. Four years ago, people could be content with the promise of change. Today, people may be wary of such amorphous promises and may more readily embrace a candidate who has specified the particular reforms he favors.
If people this year are looking for substance, the contrast between Paul Ryan’s record and Barack Obama’s image could help the Republicans in ways that most pundits today can’t even envision.