America awoke Saturday, August 11, to find that Congressman Paul Ryan, a seven-term Wisconsin Republican, had joined Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign as the vice-presidential pick. For bowhunters, this was exciting news. Bowhunting is one of Ryan’s passions, along with his Insanity workouts, his family and, oh yeah, the nation’s financial woes. In fact, Ryan has earned the respect of colleagues, the media and most economists as a policy expert. He’s especially renown for his knowledge of the U.S. budget, federal tax policy, healthcare, Medicare/Medicaid, social security and the “social safety net,” entitlement programs many Americans build their lives around.
Yet, if you scan the Internet, read news publications, or watch/listen to cable TV and radio chatter, you also hear details about Ryan’s public and private life. Voters want to know about a politician’s “roots,” after all. As expected, we’ve seen articles about his home, his friends, his early years, his father’s early death, his marriage and his family.
And though disappointing, I’m not surprised some sensational media types spun Congressman Ryan’s work for the archery industry as an effort to give manufacturers undue breaks. Worse, others attacked Janna Ryan, Paul’s wife, who worked as a congressional aide and later for a lobbying firm before marrying and staying home to raise the Ryans’ three children. Still others dug into the congressman’s past and tried linking him to donors and other people loosely linked to scandals, implying guilt by association. They've also questioned his honesty, demeanor and bipartisanship; and his relationships with congressional leaders, cabinet members and President Obama.
Finally, any Google search turns up infinite pieces denigrating Ryan’s background, qualifications and legislative skills as reasons to suspect his policies. I’ve also read superficial pieces about him that include empty statements like, “Ryan will end Medicare as we know it.” For instance, Eugene Robinson of “The Washington Post” cast Ryan as a selfish, me-first capitalist who doesn’t believe in community or safety nets for those less fortunate . Dana Milbank, one of Robinson’s “Washington Post” colleagues, scoffed at Ryan’s candidacy and claimed Ryan’s only noteworthy attribute is his physical fitness. And “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman – long incensed that Ryan is considered an expert on America’s economy – believes the media unwittingly embrace Ryan as an honest, truthful policy broker . Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner, further blames the media for not exposing Ryan.
Meanwhile – though the American people deserve it – I’ve had trouble finding thoughtful, insightful reviews or exposes’ on Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” or his “Path to Prosperity,” a budget framework he passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Some analysts did reasonable work contrasting elements of “ObamaCare” with Ryan’s budget plans. Others criticize Ryan for specific elements of his plan, such as options for future Medicare recipients and social security beneficiaries. Others, of course, question the tax code’s fairness. However, because Obama hasn’t presented a comprehensive plan for all entitlements, comparisons remain incomplete.
I’m eager for the media to find a Democrat who accepts the substance of Rep. Ryan’s plan and provides an equally sound treatise on these issues from a more liberal perspective. So far, President Obama has fallen far short of the mark; Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and the Senate haven’t even offered a budget, let alone a plan. And Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and her House colleagues have only voted against Ryan’s budget without offering one of their own. Worse, what should be an evolving policy debate and ultimately a compromise package has devolved into a name-calling contest with unsubstantiated sound bites, overly simplistic ads and “my way or destitution” hyperbole. And that’s coming from both sides.
I’m also eager to see leaders emerge who insist on conversations at a higher level. Americans must be assured their futures are based on freedom of choice and the liberty to pursue individual interests. They deserve the chance to work hard, take personal responsibility, and secure a future for their families and greater communities. Yes, that includes caring for those who can’t manage for themselves and those who fall on hard times through no fault of their own.
Paul Ryan has spent the past couple of years asking Democrats to engage in what the president has called an “adult conversation,” but Ryan has had no takers. Thus, I think he has accepted the only other route toward change: using elections to force us to hold a conversation about our future. If the November 2012 election causes everyone to stop, read, think and consider what kind of future they want for themselves, their families, communities and nation, then Congressman Ryan will have succeeded, regardless of the election’s outcome.
As President Obama says in one of his campaign ads, we have a choice this fall. Now that Paul Ryan is in the race, we have a choice and we can have that conversation about our collective futures. I’m confident that — if and when people engage in that conversation — we will fulfill America’s promise for everyone. I hope we support leaders like Ryan, who can help us at every turn on the long and challenging road to a stronger America.