In the first week since Paul Ryan joined Mitt Romney on the Republican ticket, something subtle yet fundamental has happened to the country--something not yet reflected in poll numbers or punditry: the mantle of leadership has shifted.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden (certainly the latter) occupy office but cannot be said to govern in any meaningful way beyond formalities. Obama avoids the media; Biden has been sent back to Delaware; and their vast auxiliary army of super PACs and community organizers is reduced to petty sniping and personal attacks. No one expects any truly new ideas or proposals to come out of the Obama campaign anymore. It is telling that the only real debate this week was between Romney and Ryan's Medicare policies, not Obama's.
The honest reflections of the more thoughtful voices on the American left confirm that Romney and Ryan are, in effect, leading the country. First there was William Saletan of Slate, who wrote--without irony: "A wonderful thing has happened for this country. Paul Ryan will be the Republican nominee for vice president." He added that Republicans like Ryan were the perfect antidote to Democratic excesses: "Maybe, like me, you were raised in a liberal household. You don’t agree with conservative ideas on social or foreign policy. But this is why God made Republicans: to force a reality check when Democrats overpromise and overspend."
That reaction found echoes in praise for Ryan offered by veteran Democrat Erskine Bowles of the president's own fiscal commission, among others. Other Democrats--notably former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder, the state's first African-American governor, and none too impressed with Biden's offensive appeals to racial resentment--began to consider crossing party lines to support the Republican ticket, even if just this once.
Eli Zaretsky, writing for the hard-left, pro-Occupy, pro-Palestinian Tikkun magazine, admitted candidly:
Now leftists are exploding with joy at Romney’s supposed mistake in choosing the easily attacked Ryan as his running mate. Perhaps leftists might reconsider their own credibility as political analysts in evaluating the Republican strategy.
Let us begin with the obvious. Obama cannot run on his record, since it is a record of failure. Therefore, he was always going to run a scare campaign, explaining how bad the Republicans are. In choosing Ryan, Romney has not made this easier for Obama — it was always easy. Rather, he showed that he is not afraid of Obama’s scare tactics, and of the Democrat’s ad hominem attacks on him — rich, unfeeling, out of touch, and all the rest.
In choosing Ryan, what Romney showed above all was courage--or, more precisely, the absence of fear. Eighty years ago, a great Democratic president comforted the nation by telling it that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." That comfort and confidence is what Romney and Ryan now offer Americans, while Obama ducks questions, Biden hurls bombs, and Democrat surrogates find the old weapons no longer work.
There was a telling moment, shortly after he was chosen, when Paul Ryan faced reporters on the campaign plane and said simply: "We're going to win this campaign." It was not bluster; it was simple self-assurance.
There is a long way to go on this campaign trail, and Romney and Ryan will have to fight for every vote. But now they will be tested not as candidates, but as leaders of the nation. That is what they have already won.