Mitt Romney made just about the best choice possible for his running mate.
First, Paul Ryan was the leading choice of his party's right wing. He's increased enthusiasm for his ticket by a large factor.
Second, Ryan will at least placate the tea partiers while not embarrassing Romney. That is no small feat.
Third, Ryan has pulled off the trick -- at least so far -- of being both a tea party favorite and a Washington insider. He doesn't scare away establishment money; he attracts it.
Fourth, Ryan probably puts Wisconsin back in play, a state that had been drifting back toward Obama and one that is difficult to win the presidency without.
Fifth, Ryan's credibility after seven terms in Congress will raise few realistic concerns that he's not up for the job should he become president. Sarah Palin caused people to question John McCain's judgment and seriousness. Paul Ryan looks like the solid kind of choice Romney says he'll make in other matters.
The downside for Romney (and it may not turn out to be a downside at all) is that Ryan is no moderate. He's a polarizing figure who represents a kind of hard-hearted Republican orthodoxy. But his persona as a clean-cut family guy takes some of the edge off that, and if he energizes the GOP base while the Dems remain dispirited, this won't matter. It might even help.
Lyndon Johnson was probably the last vice presidential candidate that might have been responsible for delivering the presidency to his ticket. More accurately, if you buy the argument in Robert Caro's latest book on Johnson, he stole it for Kennedy by working his unsavory magic in Texas, never mind what went on in Illinois.
But all of that is politics. I'm glad that Romney chose Paul Ryan because (barring some scandal we're not aware of) it gives us a chance to have a real debate in this country about very different visions for our future. Ryan would further cut up the already lacking American safety net while he would shower even more largesse on the wealthiest among us. Obama would strengthen that safety net and bring at least some tax justice back to the equation.
But what I like about Ryan is that he's unapologetic about his positions. I think Paul Ryan is wrong about most everything, but I respect him for having ideas and not running away from them. This is more than anybody can say for the top of his ticket.
With two cautious men running for president, it could be that the real debate about the nation's future will happen when Paul Ryan meets Joe Biden in October.
It's still too early to tell whether Paul Ryan will help or hurt Mitt Romney's chances, but by choosing him Romney has given the country a real debate. If Obama and Biden survive this by whatever margin they can, they should claim a mandate for their direction for our country. Romney and Ryan certainly will if they win. Let's at least credit Mitt Romney for giving us that kind of choice.