When you think of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, terms like earnest, serious and important come to mind. So does the term old-fashioned. Ryan comes from an old-fashioned place, the blue-collar town of Janesville, Wis. He cherishes the old-fashioned values of a faithful family man. He even looks old-fashioned, with his white shirts and striped ties. And he uses old-fashioned argument skills, persuasively weaving big-picture themes with the numbers that back them up.
And Ryan has old-fashioned goals, too, like saving America from fiscal bankruptcy, economic stagnation and a European-style entitlement state.
"Just look at what happened across the Atlantic," Ryan told me in a year-end interview. "We have to avoid that. We must reclaim our founding principles of economic freedom and free markets. We must preserve the American Idea."
With this vision, and with a pro-growth budget framework called "A Roadmap for America's Future," Ryan's serious ideas have seriously gotten under President Obama's skin.
In a White House meeting this year, Ryan's superior knowledge of health care baffled Obama and left him speechless. And the serious Ryan budget, which lowers spending by $6.2 trillion and reduces deficits by $4.4 trillion over 10 years, totally outflanked the White House. It embarrassingly exposed the Obama administration's flimsy and inconsequential 2012 budget, which even rejected the findings of Obama's own Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission (another Oval Office embarrassment).
And when Ryan unveiled his first Medicare-reform package, which featured patient-centered consumer choice and market competition, the White House went nuts. Team Obama whipped up a Mediscare panic, resorting to a fictional caricature of Ryan forcing old ladies off a cliff. But the charge that the Ryan plan "ends Medicare" couldn't be further from the truth. The website PolitiFact labeled this "the lie of the year."