In choosing Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has selected:
a) A right-wing ideologue with extreme views whose economic blueprints would further enrich the wealthy; strip the middle class of hard-won medical, education and retirement benefits; expose old folks to rapacious health insurance firms; and return America to dog-eat-dog social Darwinism, redolent of the age of the robber barons,
b) A brave and bold young visionary in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy who, with his intricate knowledge of the federal budget, will combine with Romney to prune extravagant government entitlements; free business from the shackles of federal regulation; relieve upper income Americans from unwise and unfair taxation; and spur the creation of millions of jobs.
So contended Democratic (a) and Republican (b) partisans and campaign operatives, who used Sunday's talk shows as a forum to hone the lines of attack they have chosen for the coming days and weeks.
President Obama's senior campaign adviser led the assault, calling Ryan a "right wing ideologue" who was chosen by Romney "to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party."
Adviser David Axelrod said Ryan is the "intellectual energy" behind a right-wing budget plan that would "end Medicare as we know it," slash federal student loan and research programs and "lavish millions of dollars of tax cuts, most of them on the wealthy." He said Ryan is "outside the mainstream" on abortion rights, and reminded viewers of the ABC’s This Week that the congressman was the architect of a proposal to privatize Social Security that was "so out there" that even Republicans deserted him.
Axelrod said that the Obama campaign was happy with Romney's decision. "I think it helps voters clarify what this choice is all about," he said.
But Romney's campaign sought to paint Ryan's potential vulnerabilities as an asset, proudly and boldly vowing that a Romney-Ryan administration would raise the Social Security retirement age, cut Social Security benefits for upper income Americans and transform Medicare into a voucher system to get a handle on soaring entitlement costs. Romney's selection of Ryan "was a big bold courageous choice," said Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom on CBS’s Face the Nation. "This is no time for complacency."
The Romney campaign is betting that Americans crave action and specifics, even if the results are painful, Fehrnstrom said. "Paul Ryan has a budget," he said, while President Obama offers "no policy agenda for the second term."
Tim Pawlenty, the former Republican presidential candidate and governor of Minnesota, also defended Romney's choice. The American people know the country is in a fiscal fix, and that popular programs like Medicare "are not going to be available at all if we don't have some reform," he said. The voters will respect Ryan's courage in putting out "a plan that actually tackles the problem," Pawlenty said.
As for Obama, "all he does is duck and bob and weave," Pawlenty said. "That is not leadership."
"The biggest risk for the country is doing nothing," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said on CNN's State of the Union. "That is what ends Medicare as we know it."
Both sides deplored the negative cast of the campaign, and said that they welcomed a high-toned discussion of the issues, but quickly chose otherwise.
"The tea party is excited, the social conservatives are excited" with Romney's choice and "it will help the governor have a more convivial convention," Axelrod said. But "throwing seniors onto the tender mercies of the private insurance market" and putting Medicare "in a death spiral" will prove toxic in the general election.
Fehrnstrom accused the Obama campaign of "garbage talk."
"He thinks that talking about the substance of the Paul Ryan Plan...is mudslinging," replied Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, in ersatz outrage.
"If any person in this entire debate has blood on their hands in regard to Medicare...its Barack Obama," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on NBC's Meet the Press. "He's the one that's destroying Medicare."
And Sen. John McCain, R-Az., used an appearance on Fox News Sunday to call Obama's performance in foreign policy "shameful" and the Democratic attacks on Romney "disgraceful." Obama's rudderless foreign policy is leading to "massacres now bordering on genocide" in Syria, McCain said.
McCain then lamented that the campaign's negative tone left him "sad."