'Privatising Ryan's' vision for America

Paul Ryan introduces US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as he addresses supporters at Lawrence University on 30 March Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The choice of Paul Ryan may help get out voters on the right who have been lukewarm about Romney

Some Republicans were worried that the often less-than-inspired Romney team would settle for another boring old white man for vice-president.

At least in political terms, Paul Ryan isn't old and isn't boring.

The 42-year-old Catholic is said to wrestle catfish, stride the corridors of power listening to Rage Against The Machine and save money by sleeping in his office.

But more than these tantalising biographical details, he's known for coming up with an economic blueprint for America's future.

Most VP picks throughout the ages have been to appeal to a certain demographic of voters. Paul Ryan hasn't been chosen to attract Latinos or women but because of his ideals and ideas.

It seems to mark a change of strategy for the Romney campaign. While certainly not devoid of detailed plans, its focus was on why President Obama didn't deserve re-election.

Picking Privatising Ryan means the debate, for a few days at least, will be about a Republican vision of what their country should be like.

His plan deals with America's budget crisis by looking at the central problem - what are known here as "entitlements" - stuff the government has to pay out by law.

In the USA, that means pensions (social security), free health care for the retired (Medicare) and the very poor (Medicaid). He'd privatise Medicare and Social Security, giving senior citizens vouchers and allowing them to choose private medical insurance and cash in a pensions account. The money for Medicaid would be handed back to individual states.

Most conservatives are wildly enthusiastic about the idea and the man, and Tea Party supporters will be ecstatic.

Democrats seem delighted too at having such a clear target- one observer said it was seen to be like hanging out with a target who had a killer drone hanging over his head.

So it elevates the tone of debate, but it will be slightly weird to have a VP pick who is more interesting than the candidate, and whose ideas are the ones being debated. Of course that happened with Sarah Palin, but not in a good way.

So is this a game changer? Can it help Mitt Romney win a race where he is lagging a little behind?

Paul Ryan is not all positive. He has no foreign policy experience, hardly any history outside politics (he was elected at 28) and may not be seen as ready to become commander-in-chief if something should happen to President Romney.

I've long contended that this election is not about persuading the seriously undecided, but dragging out likely supporters to the polls and actually getting them to cast that vote. Right-wingers who are lukewarm about Romney will love this and it could make a big difference to their enthusiasm.

But infuriated Dems will be fired up too.

So if it does come down to those independents, it will depend on the quality of debate over some very big ideas over the next few weeks.

I've also long said this election is about a battle between two very different visions of America, and I notice in recent days Obama has said something very similar. This pick shows Romney enthusiastically agrees. The president may regret casting the battle in that light.