With his choice for vice president, Republican Mitt Romney has tossed his usual cautious and vague approach in favor of either bold or desperate, depending upon your viewpoint.
The selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, as a running mate should appease those on the Republican right wing who have groused that Mr. Romney is not conservative enough. It also shoves the presumed GOP ticket even further to the right than serious party leaders have ventured in the past.
We doubt this will prove a shinning moment for democracy, but at least the choice between Romney-Ryan and President Obama and his VP choice will be stark, much more so than in 2008 when Arizona Senator John McCain led the GOP ticket, or under former President George W. Bush in two elections, former Kansas Senator Bob Dole in 1996 or George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992.
The truth is, even when Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 and 1984, the GOP did not have anyone on the ticket as extreme in his views toward the role of government or the need to raise tax revenue to support non-military government programs.
The budget plan offered this year by Representative Ryan is the work of a man who believes in large measure in the theories espoused by novelist Ayn Rand (see "The Virtue of Selfishness"); many modern libertarians and all fans of the laissez-faire approach to business regulation that existed prior to the Great Depression.
We'd thought the debate over the need for a social safety net and regulation of business to ease the violent economic dislocations of the industrialized world, and non-stop attempts by some businesses to create shoddy or dangerous goods, operate dangerous workplaces, treat workers like slaves and/or pollute the environment for profit ended during the 1930s.
We were not alone in thinking that the programs begun under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and expanded under subsequent administrations were an accepted reality, but apparently not. The size and shape of programs like Social Security and Medicare and the EPA are no longer the point of debate: The openly stated goal of many Republicans on the national scene today is the elimination of these programs as guaranteed features of American life, and Representative Ryan, through his statements and his budget plans, is in the forefront of this retro-movement.
This is a movement, by the way, which goes far beyond President Reagan's "government is the problem" statement and well beyond the way in which he governed. He in fact raised taxes when it became obvious that the theory of tax cutting leading to greater investment and more jobs and even more tax revenue fell on its face -- just as it did during the early 2000s under President Bush.
The difference today seems to be that the economic and social theorists themselves are running the Republican Party and driving out any moderate pols who might think of compromise. This selection is one more reminder, following a series of primary election defeats for more moderate Republican office-holders in favor of true believers.
At least now it is left to the voters to decide this issue, and they could go a long way toward such a resolution in November. Just as the most extreme left-wing radicalism of the 1960s was decisively rejected in the 1972 election, we would suggest that a stake be driven through the heart of this impractical and selfish political dogma in 2012.