I thought Mitt Romney had all but announced his running mate on Aug. 1, through a Wall Street Journal op-ed by his economic adviser Glenn Hubbard.
He wasn't identified, but the signs pointed to Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin who has garnered national attention for his sober warnings - and bold solutions - about the nation's fiscal and economic woes.
This weekend, Romney made it official. It was a welcome move, one that shows this will be a campaign of substance - at least on the GOP side.
Hubbard set the stage in his op-ed, listing the failures of the Obama administration's economic policies and what that record means for the country: "Sadly, at the present rate of job creation and projected labor-force growth, the nation will never return to full employment."
Naturally, he said his candidate would return the country to the road to prosperity, by:
Halting "runaway federal spending and debt," thus easing the minds of business owners and consumers over the need for increased taxes.
Reforming the tax code, reducing individual rates across the board and cutting corporate rates.
Reforming entitlements, to ensure that the country can fulfill the promises it has made to retirees and others.
Doing away with or replacing regulation and legislation - including Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act - that impede growth, production, or innovation.
Ryan has been front and center on all these issues, though he hasn't been alone in calling for reform.
In 2008, Barack Obama decried the $4 trillion added to the national debt during George W. Bush's eight years as "unpatriotic." (The debt has soared by more than $5.5 trillion in Obama's three years.)
President Obama followed up with the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, known as Simpson-Bowles. Its sweeping, balanced recommendations on spending cuts, tax reform, health-care costs, mandatory federal savings, Social Security reform, and budgeting changes were hailed on both sides of the aisle. But Obama ignored that work in his subsequent budgets. (Give him points for uniting Senate Republicans and Democrats, though, as they unanimously rejected each of those spending plans.)
By picking Ryan, Romney makes it clear that he's serious about reform. No more time wasted with blue-ribbon panels whose reports are quickly shelved in that giant government warehouse seen at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
For vice president, Romney has picked the man recognized as the heart, the soul, and most especially, the brains of the reform movement.
Recent articles about Ryan, ranging from a complimentary Weekly Standard cover story to a snarky New Yorker piece, all acknowledge him as the movement's leader. And it's his leadership - not at all from behind, but way out in front - that has had many Republicans embracing attempts to reform themselves from the spendthrifts who lost their way during the Bush years to a party of fiscal responsibility.
The 84 new House Republicans elected in 2010 helped put some muscle behind Ryan's efforts, but he was drafting his road maps to budget, tax, and entitlement reform long before he was the House Budget Committee chairman. Then, he could barely get cosponsors. Today, his party, in the House and Senate, backs him almost unanimously.
That expertise landed him on the Simpson-Bowles commission. He couldn't back the final report because it didn't adequately address health care, so Ryan and fellow commissioner Alice Rivlin - once Bill Clinton's director of the Office of Management and Budget - drafted their own Medicare reform plan. And though Ryan is often falsely portrayed by Democrats as attempting to end entitlements, some, such as Rivlin and Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.), now see the wisdom of working with him to fix them.
Yes, he has detractors. Remember the TV ads with a Ryan look-alike tossing Granny off a cliff? There will be more of that now - and likely worse. But don't expect Ryan to respond in kind. He will fight back, but he's a good-natured candidate, respectful, disciplined, and focused.
A Romney-Ryan ticket presents a clear choice for 2012. Ryan has already demonstrated that he can connect the dots on taxes and deficits, and on entitlements and debt. And, like Romney, he sees how those issues stifle economic growth and job creation. He has a long-term, commonsense plan to promote prosperity - much of which resembles the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles effort. It won't pass as is, but a Romney administration will be able to hit the ground running.
The alternative? Team Obama, which seems to have run out of ideas. Here's Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner responding to Ryan during a hearing on the debt crisis:
"We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term problem. What we do know is we don't like yours."
Fair enough. They can't lead - or won't. So Romney and Ryan must persuade voters that they can - and will.
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