The seriousness of Paul Ryan

Victor Joecks

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI’s week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them. Just enter your email in the box on the top right.

For today’s week-in-review email, Andy looks at Gov. Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate and how that will impact the national policy debate.

Pundits and politicians, from both sides, are constantly telling us that our nation needs more “seriousness” in our political discourse.

I couldn’t agree more.

And now, thanks to Paul Ryan’s entrée into the presidential campaign, we may all get our wish.

Whatever you think of Ryan’s particular policy prescriptions, the Wisconsin congressman and vice-presidential contender is a man of big ideas. He’s an intellectual heavyweight who has risen through his party’s ranks on his willingness and ability to offer bold, concrete solutions to our nation’s foremost policy challenges – even (and especially) those that many policymakers, for reasons of political expediency, are loath to confront.

Ryan’s presence in the race provides a tremendous opportunity to have the serious policy discussion we all agree is needed. We’ll have the chance now to focus on topics like cost curves and revenue projections – as opposed to, for example, “boxers or briefs” or unfounded rumors about old tax returns.

This is an especially welcome development for someone who works at an organization that’s dedicated to researching and analyzing public policy. That Ryan generally approaches policymaking from a limited-government, free-market perspective is a deal-sweetener, to be sure, but a similar passion for the nuts and bolts of public policy would be a refreshing addition to the presidential campaign even if it came from the current administration. It is Ryan’s grasp of policy, in addition to his views regarding it, that should serve the country well over the next three months.

You’ll notice, of course, that I said “should.” What’ll be interesting to see from here on out is whether Ryan’s presence in the race does indeed result in the “serious discussion” for which everyone supposedly longs. The early returns are mixed.

I happened to catch Wolf Blitzer’s interview with Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz the other day, and it was great to see Blitzer, a member of the national mainstream media, continue to push Wasserman Schultz on an important and substantive question regarding Medicare policy – even as his guest repeatedly tried to steer the conversation back to the stale talking points and platitudes we typically see in campaigns. Good for Blitzer – and good for the rest of us, too.

On the other hand, there was also this:

Vice President Joe Biden sparked a campaign commotion Tuesday, telling an audience in southern Virginia that included hundreds of black voters that Republican Mitt Romney wanted to put them “back in chains” by deregulating Wall Street.

OK then.

Any efforts to genuinely elevate our national discourse face enough hurdles to begin with. But it certainly doesn’t help when the sitting vice president would rather suggest that his political opponents want to bring back slavery – slavery! – than debate the issues on their merits.

While NPRI neither supports nor opposes any candidates for public office, we do believe that some ideas are much better than others and that the country is best served when candidates – whatever their party or philosophy – choose to debate those ideas.

That’s why Biden’s comments are so unfortunate. And it’s also why Ryan’s presence in the campaign holds such promise.

It’s rare that someone like Paul Ryan, willing to offer a serious proposal to reform a popular entitlement program, finds his way onto a national ticket. But he’s there now – and in a year when our nation faces its greatest policy challenges in at least a generation. Whichever side wins in November is going to have to address a number of very serious national problems, from stubbornly high unemployment to persistently weak GDP growth to staggering debt. Those problems will require some serious thinking and some serious solutions – even if they may seriously tick some people off.

Between now and November, voters should demand that the media and the candidates – from both parties – give us a serious discussion.

Until next time,

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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