The addition of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to the Republican presidential ticket lays the groundwork for a serious discussion of important issues.
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney over the weekend injected a considerable measure of seriousness into a presidential campaign so far notable for its lack of that quality by selecting Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate.
The 42-year-old Ryan — a Catholic, a Green Bay Packers fan and a father of young children — is best known in Washington, D.C., as chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, a serious student of public policy and somewhat of a Boy Scout. He also has a reputation as a genial straight shooter who focuses on substance and makes it a point not to engage in personal political attacks.
In other words, what Ryan specializes in — honest discussion of issues — is exactly what this campaign has been lacking. He may not be entirely successful in changing the tone of the political back-and-forth, but it won't be for lack of trying.
It's been rumored for weeks that Romney would not wait for the Republican Party convention scheduled to be held in two weeks before choosing a running mate. He made that prediction come true over the weekend, choosing Ryan from among a number of prominent contenders.
In response, Democrats claim to be salivating over the opportunity to attack Ryan, focusing on Ryan's complicated budget-reduction proposals as well as his prescription for addressing Medicare's serious financial challenges.
Voters (and Republicans) ought to welcome this promised debate. These are important issues, and they deserve a thorough airing in this campaign.
Indeed, it's far better for the country to have the Democrats initiate an honest debate with Romney and Ryan about the financial challenges we face than continue the same bizarre attacks (Romney is a killer. Romney is a felon. Romney doesn't pay taxes. Romney's wife has a horse.) that they have launched against Romney. Unfortunately, Republicans have responded in kind with a series of withering assaults on Obama's record.
The public is ill-served by the kind of politically deceitful radio and TV advertisements we've seen so far. It's a mystery why anyone would believe such incredible tripe, but both political parties use these ads because they work.
However, they don't always work, and Ryan is an example of one politico who has survived this kind of demonization in the past without responding in kind.
Past anti-Ryan Democratic TV advertisements have actually featured a character identified as Ryan throwing a helpless grandmother off a cliff. That was the Democrats' idea of a reasoned discussion of Medicare-related issues. It didn't work not just because it wasn't true but because Ryan was willing and able to explain to voters' satisfaction why it wasn't true.
It's no secret that President Barack Obama's political advisers are placing their re-election hopes on waging a relentlessly negative campaign against Romney and now Ryan. As politics goes, that's not a bad strategy. It's intended to keep the focus off the incumbent's inability to get the economy out of the doldrums.
But the public deserves better than a war of 30-second TV and radio ads. It's our hope and expectation that Ryan will play a major role in seeing that the public gets the kind of substantive discussion so vital to the democratic process.