He loves numbers.* Despite regular panic about American students’ math scores, don’t let anyone tell you this is a country that doesn’t love its math (it’s not the same as being numerate). Ryan’s main reputation, in an era of democratized economics where anyone with an Internet connection can pore over budget projections, is for engaging in wonky policy debates about the challenges of financing a national insurance system, bolstering his arguments with charts and tables. But he gets dinged by policy experts for failing to fill in all the blanks–in their estimation, his plans are more focused on cutting taxes and public spending than cutting government borrowing. Sometimes, he just runs out of time.
He’s a true believer. Ryan’s greatest strength, though, is that he can frame policy choices in gripping, ideological terms. “It’s really a cultural decision over who we are and what kind of country we want to be,” he said in a 2010 speech. “Do we want to have an opportunity society with a safety net where we are pushing prosperity to its limits, where we are extending the economic growth to more and more people, where we are reclaiming the American idea of incentivizing entrepreneurship, hard work, production, achievement, and growing our economy, or are we going to go down the path of having a cradle-to-grave, European-style social welfare state?” You can guess Ryan’s preference.
Tonight, Democrats say he’ll have to address his long record on Medicare, which could hurt the Republican ticket’s chances with seniors. Ryan’s main goal will be deploying his plainspoken zeal to promote Romney while separating the campaign’s Medicare message from his own pathbreaking plans. And Biden? Well, let’s just say that Ryan won’t be the only politician in the room with ambitions.