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Romney and Ryan 

"The Ryan selection may be as big a risk for the Obama campaign – and for all of us – as it is for Romney."

Shortly after Mitt Romney introduced Paul Ryan as his running mate on Saturday, The Atlantic's James Fallows suggested that the choice was good not only for Romney but also for the country. Given his outspoken conservatism, Fallows said, Ryan's presence on the ticket means that voters will be able to focus on the crucial issues facing the nation.

Lord knows that would be a blessing. We really do need to have a national discussion about the role of government, the future of Medicare and Social Security, defense spending, the tax structure, that kind of thing.

If Ryan is to be more than a pretty face on campaign posters, political discussions could move to substance. And the debates could be enlightening – maybe even significant.

The reason for the excitement surrounding the Ryan pick, of course – among conservatives and liberals – is that unlike Romney, Ryan has spelled out his positions clearly. And so far, at least, he hasn't dodged and weaved about them. He has a strong anti-abortion record, voted to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood, supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, opposed repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and opposes stronger gun-control measures.

He's most well known, of course, for his fiscal conservatism and his budget plan, which would lower taxes on the wealthy and on corporations (and run up the deficit), turn Medicare into a partial voucher program, and slash federal spending (except for defense).

Those stands will drive conservative Republicans to the polls – and Democratic leaders seem to think it'll fire up their base and help Obama lure back disaffected liberals.

And maybe James Fallows is right. Maybe at last we'll have a national discussion about the role of government – what it can and should do, what it can't and shouldn't, how to best stimulate the economy, whether tax cuts for the wealthy help or hurt, whether cutting government spending in a recession is a good idea....

But the Ryan selection may be as big a risk for the Obama campaign – and for all of us – as it is for Romney. Big Money is playing a larger role in this campaign than it ever has, and I wouldn't be surprised if Big Money's ads – laden with slogans and distortions – determine the outcome of this election.

Ryan is only the vice-presidential candidate. And as campaign officials have said, this is the Romney-Ryan ticket, not the Ryan-Romney ticket. But we have to assume that Romney's choice actually means something.

So far, Romney has proved to be a bundle of unknowns. Given his position shifting, his statements seem more like political calculations than professions of belief.

Romney desperately needed conservatives' votes to win the Republican nomination. He'll desperately need them to have any chance at being elected. Until Saturday, though, you could hope that as president, he might return to his moderate roots.

Now, though, he has done more than mouth hard-right beliefs. Now he has attached himself firmly to a leading young conservative.

And unless he is more cynical than I had thought – and unless he is strong enough to resist the howls of conservatives if he stiffs his vice president once he's in office – we are getting a look at the real Romney, the Romney who will craft budgets and shape programs and hold the veto pen if he is elected.

And if this isn't the real Romney? Then his vice-presidential choice says a lot about the conservative lock on the Republican Party.

"The Right has a firm grip on the Romney campaign, which will grow tighter if he's elected president," Jamelle Bouie warned on the American Prospect website on Saturday.

"The stakes have just been raised," Bouie wrote. "If Obama loses, we can look forward to President Mitt Romney, Vice President Paul Ryan, and the most right-wing presidential administration in modern American history."

Media reports over the weekend said that Obama campaign officials were all smiles about Romney's selection of Ryan. I'm not sure they have anything to celebrate.

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