As the news began to spread on Satuday morning that Mitt Romney had selected Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan to be his running mate, the media reaction was nearly unanimous: The conservative budget wonk would “elevate the debate” and “make the election about big issues,” not small things like tax returns and offshore bank accounts. That prediction soon looked ridiculous. By Tuesday, President Obama was talking about Romney’s poor, mistreated mutt and Romney was accusing the president of fomenting “anger and hate.” So much for elevated.
Still, the choice of Ryan guarantees the election will be about bigger things than it otherwise would have been, even if the Romney campaign has begun to shrink from some of what that implies. It won’t happen before November, but Ryan’s presence on the ticket could eventually usher in a politics that isn’t limited to trivialities and dysfunction and clears the way for progress on major challenges like tax and entitlement reform. The attacks that everyone bemoans will play an important role in bringing this change about. In fact, change might not come without them.