Suzanne Fields
We remember Granny. She's the helpless old lady in a wheelchair that Paul Ryan, or somebody who was supposed to look like him, pushed over the cliff. That's the way an Obama campaign commercial attempted to demonstrate the heartlessness of the mean ol' Republicans.

But a funny thing happened on the way to November. When Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate, a lot of people put that video on rewind. Granny turned out to be alive and well, capable of looking at things for herself, seeing things as they really are, and she's alarmed at what she sees ahead for her children and grandchildren. That's what the Romney-Ryan ticket is gambling on.

But something is going over the cliff, as Ryan has said many times. "It's health care inflation that's driving us all off the cliff." Medicare is facing a $38 trillion unfunded liability -- 38 trillion in "empty promises" on the way toward bankruptcy.

Two years ago, Ryan was accused of wanting to change Medicare "as we know it." That's true enough. Whether he has anything to do with it or not, Medicare will change "as we know it" because not even America, the richest nation or earth, can afford numbers like that. Seniors know it, too. When Marco Rubio embraced Ryan's road map to Medicare survival in 2010, many of those Florida seniors sent him to the U.S. Senate.

What the Republican campaign promises, if the Democrats can become more truthful -- a big if -- is a forthright debate about how the economy of health care can be put on a path to provide security for Granny's children and grandchildren, while keeping it going for everyone over 55. The seniors actually have no selfish stake in the reform, since the reforms won't apply to them. Ryan is determined, but not inflexible.

After Democrats decried his first Medicare reform plan, characterizing it as "Mediscare," he refused to fly away on a broomstick borrowed from a wicked witch. Instead, he tweaked his plan, improving the recipe to make the brew more palatable. As a result, he got Sen. Ron Wyden, an influential Oregon Democrat who sees a dark future, too, and doesn't like it, to join him. Ryan's boyish looks and polite demeanor make him appear like a candidate for president of the senior class, but he's a sophisticated thinker, a quick learner and not stubborn in the way of so many Washington pols, eager to see issues in only their way.

"Ryan is a new kind of combatant," James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute observed earlier this year in Commentary magazine. "He does not panic. He adjusts. And he takes the long view."

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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