Paul Ryan As VP Pick: A Bold Move, But Is It A Wise One?

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The selection of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate will certainly change the complexion of the race. It is, however, not at all certain that it will change it for the better.

To be sure, Ryan offers a bold vision, a vision that the Romney campaign has lacked. He has passed a budget. And he has a plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and has shown that he will take on entitlement in a serious and sustained way.

That being said, the Ryan Plan is an extreme one. Other than Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden, who supported the second iteration of the Ryan Plan, there are no Democrats who support his version of how to reform entitlements. It is very likely that Congressman Ryan, who is indeed a polarizing figure, will remain one if not become even more so.

Moreover, for a race that has lacked passion and enthusiasm, the Ryan nomination will certainly fire up the pace. The hope on the Romney side is to embolden Conservatives. With the Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard weighing in on his behalf, Congressman Ryan had powerful backers in his corner, a crucial factor.

Nevertheless, every poll of Congressman Ryan in Wisconsin and nationally on the Ryan Plan has shown deep division, especially with swing voters and independents who remain particularly skeptical of his policies to effectively and radically restructure Medicare.

I am fairly well certain that Ryan’s nomination will put new life into the Romney campaign for a few days, but I am not sure that it will help Romney change the direction of the race. Further, the race will become more divisive and polarizing as the Obama campaign is likely to continue, if not amp up, their attacks on Romney for wanting to pursue policies of the past and the politics of George W. Bush.

I cannot say that I would have picked Congressman Ryan if I were Governor Romney, but the pressure from the right wing of the Republican party was very strong. He had to do something to embolden a campaign that shows every sign of having begun to collapse, both substantively and in the polls.

Time will tell if Ryan’s selection is a good move, but what is certain is that we will have debates about past and current policies with a starkness and a boldness that is rare even for our increasingly divisive politics.

A final point that it is very important to consider is the effect of Ryan’s nomination on those in the center. For Democrats in the center like me, the selection of Paul Ryan leaves us out in the cold. While Ryan is right to say that Obama has not seriously taken on entitlements and Democrats are indeed right to say that Ryan goes much further than most would go to reign in the cost of programs that bipartisan analysts agree are unsustainable, there is now no viable centrist alternative in the race.

What’s more, no one is talking about a plan that will hopefully get more currency, the Bowles-Simpson plan, a bipartisan plan to reform entitlements, taxes, spending all the while stimulating growth and job creation. My hope is that the two stark visions that are articulated will stimulate those in the center to advocate on behalf of a centrist idea whose time has most certainly come.