Last night on Twitter, New York Times blogger Nate Silver said, "I think Ryan pick ...indicates (a) bearish view from Romney campaign." Silver elaborates here, saying that Romney picked Ryan in part because he believes "he had a losing position" against President Obama.
Likewise, today, CNN's Candy Crowley said:
[T]his might be, looks a little bit like some sort of ticket death wish. That, oh, my gosh, do we really want to talk about these thing? Is this where we want to go when the economy is so bad? We could have stayed on that.
These interpretations of the Paul Ryan pick -- that it is either a move of desperation or a really stupid choice -- are wrong. While it's true Democrats will run a Mediscare campaign like they did in 1996, Romney and Ryan have three powerful rejoinders this time around:
1. Medicare is already broken. We either reform it or let it destroy our public finances.
2. Obamacare exacerbates the problems in the Medicare system, since it takes $700 billion from Medicare to fund the newly created entitlement. Even the chief actuary for the Medicare and Social Security systems, Richard Foster, concludes that Obamacare will likely yield cutbacks in services to senior citizens rendered by Medicare.
3. While the original Ryan roadmap retains these Medicare cuts (though it eliminates the Independent Payment Advisory Board and uses them all to reduce the deficit rather than create a new program), Romney has indicated disagreement with this. Expect the ultimate Romney-Ryan plan to restore all funding to Medicare, just like the more recent Ryan-Wyden plan, which is cosponsored by Oregon's liberal senator Ron Wyden.
Combine these three points, and Team Romney can say that, if you're a senior citizen who is worried about Medicare, your best bet is to vote for the Republican ticket. The Republicans will protect the system; the Democrats are taking half a trillion from it over the next decade to fund a new entitlement.
It is true that Democrats are licking their chops. And that they will claim a vote for them is a vote to save Medicare. But that's misguided.
Put another way: Because Obamacare already messes with entitlements, there is greater urgency for reforming the entitlement system. That is, Obama and Biden are the ones who touched entitlements, and Romney and Ryan are coming in to fix them.
There is more to the story. The coming debate over Medicare feeds into the larger theme that Team Romney has clearly been developing -- and it gets to why I think Silver and Crowley are wildly off base.
Romney has been hinting at this message for some time: Under the presidency of Barack Obama, the United States has fallen into decline. The entitlement problem hasn't just remained the same; the problems have been exacerbated.
The country needs real changes to restore American greatness. A vote for Obama-Biden is a vote for unsustainability. A vote for Romney-Ryan is a vote for change, and therefore hope that America's best days are ahead. Or, we might say, Team Romney is all about hope and change -- a campaign theme that is known to work rather well!
Romney has not fully developed this argument yet -- and for good reason, since it is still the summer and voters aren't yet paying too close attention. The full deployment of Romney's message begins at the convention, as this is the time the swing vote is going to start paying attention.
Ultimately, Ryan advances this message, and with Obamacare messing with entitlements, and with Republicans pledging sustainable reforms, picking the intellectual leader of the Republican party was a smart move.
Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.