It is easy to see why Mitt Romney, who has struggled as a national candidate to define his guiding principles and to position himself as consistent on the political spectrum, would be attracted to Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as a vice presidential candidate. With his selection now final, Ryan joins GOP nominee-for-certain Romney in the effort to defeat President Obama.
Ryan, 42, is one politician who has no identity problems and knows exactly where he is on that spectrum. Whereas Romney has had to explain some of his past positions that are unpopular with his partys right wing, Romneycare in Massachusetts being one, Ryan is a man without any explaining to do.
Especially within the context of domestic policy, which has been his area of concentration, he holds to the Republican Partys conservative agenda, from tax breaks for the wealthy to the shrinkage of government to vehement opposition to Obamas health care reform.
Commentators on the right and left are correct about one thing: In choosing Ryan, Romney has clarified the differences in the Republican and Democratic tickets for voters. And those differences are personified by Congressman Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee:
With the aim of saving money, he favors dramatic overhauls in Medicare under which those eligible would be able to get a voucher to go buy their own health care.
He favors tax cuts for upper-income earners that might require heavy reductions in programs for the disadvantaged to achieve a balanced budget but he also opposes additional revenues through tax reform that would close loopholes for the rich. That idea was part of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commissions suggestions.
Out of balance
Ryan served on the commission, but opposed its final report because it advocated new revenue from closing tax loopholes, meaning the wealthy would pay more.
Erskine Bowles, the former University of North Carolina president who co-chaired the group, said in an article reprinted in The N&O Sunday that having loopholes worth $1.3 trillion this year, more than the government collects in taxes, is nuts. Only an approach balanced between spending cuts and additional tax revenue can work, Bowles sensibly argues.
But Ryans opposition to tax increases has made him a darling of the Republican tea party element.
The hard line on domestic issues (neither Romney nor Ryan has much foreign policy experience) as represented by this seven-term congressman apparently will be the centerpiece of the Romney campaign.
The election will be in fact a referendum on the very meaning of government:
Do we believe the government should help everyone, including the middle-class and the disadvantaged, achieve greater opportunities or leave them to the ways of the free market?
Do we believe in affordable health care for all, or a system in which insurance companies cover the lowest-risk customers and exclude others?
Do we believe in a progressive tax system, where the wealthy who benefit most from the American economic system pay their share, or are we satisfied with leaving a disproportionately heavy burden on the middle class?
The election, then, is about much more than partisanship. If Obama wins, his health care reform to ensure insurance coverage for all will continue to expand with protection for those with pre-existing conditions, and more choices for the uninsured. Romney and Ryan vow to repeal it.
Obama will push to keep the tax load on the middle class from increasing. Romney and Ryan want breaks for the rich.
Obama will try to maintain or expand domestic programs for children and college students. Those will be curtailed under Romney and Ryan.
The choice may be exciting for some, and it might be worrisome for others who see benefits they value for themselves and others going away should Romney win. But the choice is one thing for sure: emphatically clear.