Contrary to the accepted caricature of his running mate as an over-cautious type out of the East, Mitt Romney took a flyer on this young congressman from the Midwest. He may still be a newcomer on the national scene, but Paul Ryan is a veteran idea man. Mitt Romney's picking him as his running mate was already paying off as a hurricane-spooked convention, its opening postponed, its nerves frayed by high winds and rising waters to the west, had finally sputtered to life -- thanks to Ann Romney the night before. No one else on that evening's program was quite like her, the keynote speaker having talked mainly about ... New Jersey. And himself.
Now the convention was about to gain speed and altitude, like a 747 lumbering down the runway. And would soon lift up, maybe even soar. This night, Paul Ryan was at the controls. And, you could tell, enjoying it. So was his audience. He could hope the country was coming along to check out the Republican Party's new look and, more important than its new crew, its new power. The power of ideas.
Paul Ryan may be a new face to a national audience, but he is a familiar one on the conservative think-tank circuit. His intellectual trajectory is familiar, too: from a boy reader's fascination with Ayn Rand's pop ideology to the Austrian school of economists epitomized by Friedrich Hayek ("The Road to Serfdom").
Unlike the usual political comers in Congress, this young man did his apprenticeship outside Washington -- in idea factories like Empower America, where Jack Kemp, that old supply-sider and quarterback, used to hold court. Young Ryan was a familiar figure in the little magazines of the right, then on the editorial and op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, long before he started calling the shots on the House Budget Committee.
Paul Ryan spent years thinking first, politicking only later. And his thoughts came with spreadsheets. On his big night, he showed he could present ideas based on numbers but not limited to them. His ideas may be as grounded in figures as a cost accountant's, but his spirit is Reaganesque. ("We can do this!")