Mitt Romney, Republican presidential nominee in waiting, sent a wave of electricity through Wisconsin on Saturday morning by announcing that Congressman Paul Ryan of Janesville was his pick for the vice presidential spot on the ticket.
How far that jolt travels and how long that spark lasts remains to be seen, but for now we'll revel in the moment and enjoy the national spotlight that will shine brightly on our state between now and Nov. 6.
The 42-year-old Ryan, a seven-term Congressman and chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, brings a burst of conservative credentials to the ticket. And, no doubt, a wave of criticism from President Barack Obama's campaign and his supporters. Ryan authored the controversial House budget that the Republican majority approved over Democratic opposition two years in a row. A fierce political fight over the plan has been brewing ever since.
We like Ryan. We like his courageous approach to difficult issues, his intellect, and his steadfastness in addressing the deficit spending that has plagued Congress for years. He's been unfairly and unreasonably vilified by the left for his proposal to change the way Medicare works. Rather than "pushing Granny off a cliff," as one infamous TV commercial suggested, Ryan has helped the nation face the fact that Medicare is a broken program that needs reform.
In fact, we like him so much that almost exactly a year ago we suggested that Ryan himself run for president. That didn't happen, but the No. 2 spot on the Republican ticket now puts Ryan center stage to debate at the highest levels the most important issues facing our nation.
How smart is Ryan? We pointed out in that editorial last August that former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold — a longtime Wisconsin favorite who lost his seat to Ron Johnson two years ago and someone who clearly is on the opposite side of Ryan on most issues — told us "he's brilliant." We agree.
The Wall Street Journal last week published an editorial urging Ryan's selection for the VP spot, pointing out that his nomination will help frame the presidential election as one about big issues that need deep discussion rather than a campaign about personalities and the like. For example, Romney's decision to pick Ryan couldn't be more different than John McCain's choice four years ago to elevate then-unknown Alaska governor Sarah Palin to the VP candidacy.
For that reason and others, we think Romney made a smart choice in Ryan. Among the questions that will play out this fall leading up the Nov. 6 election:
• Does Ryan's role on the GOP ticket put Wisconsin "in play" as a true swing state in the presidential election? Obama won Wisconsin easily in 2008, but the success of Gov. Scott Walker and fellow Republicans in pushing through their conservative agenda the past two years — and in Walker's case, in solidly beating back a resulting recall attempt — was seen as potentially closing that gap in Wisconsin.
• Does Romney's choice mean he's fully signing on to Ryan's controversial budget that makes significant spending cuts to many popular social programs?
• What separated Ryan from other potential VP candidates, some of whom were considered by many to be ahead of Ryan on the "short list"?
We endorsed Obama in 2008 because we thought he was the best choice in that race. We're certainly not endorsing Romney over Obama in this editorial. There is much debate to be had before we're ready to commit to a presidential candidate.
But for now, we're glad to see a bright Wisconsin congressman play a new, even more significant role in national politics.