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Ryan holds mirror up to Obama

NORFOLK, Va. — Speaking in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin at the naval museum on a muggy day here, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., introduced himself to a national audience as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate.

Ryan sounded many themes that were familiar to Washington reporters who have been covering him for years — that the America in which younger generations have it better than their parents is under threat, a problem exacerbated by President Obama’s policies, and the only way to fix it is by offering bold solutions that actually confront the problem.

“President Obama, and too many like him in Washington, have refused to make difficult decisions because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation,” a turn of phrase that Republican Gov. Scott Walker often employed in his successful recall election this June in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin.

“The commitment Mitt Romney and I make to you is this: We won’t duck the tough issues…we will lead!” Ryan pledged to the audience as they waved American flags.

Romney’s decision to tap Ryan, the idea man of the Republican Party, is a challenge to President Obama.

In 2008, the central component of Obama’s meteoric rise was that politics had become too cynical and small, and that it was important to have a more substantive debate on the pressing issues facing the nation. His appeal to independents was rooted in this very idea. In the current campaign, Obama has decided that in the face of a weak economy and tepid approval ratings, his path to victory rests on destroying Romney. But with the Ryan pick, Obama has been given a chance to have a substantive debate. After all, it was Obama that helped elevate Ryan in January 2010, when he picked him out of the crowd to acknowledge the congressman had produced a “serious proposal” to address entitlements, even though he disagreed with it.

Ryan is effectively holding a mirror up to Obama. Will he live up to the promise of his 2008 campaign, and engage in a substantive policy debate when given the chance? Or will he continue to run a campaign aimed at destroying his opponent, engaging the the same sort of politics of division that he once decried?