RYANAlexWong:Getty

Because, regardless of whether you agree or disagree, he's being intellectually honest about the debt and entitlements, even if he is far too utopian in seeing a viable political majority for his vision. And because he seems unafraid to put real, adult fiscal conservatism to the people:

Ryan said he does not think that voters would punish the GOP for shunning attack politics and for speaking plainly about the country's problems. He notes his own political success: He won reelection in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote despite coming from a district and a state that voted for Obama.

"It's really important, I think, not to run campaigns on some vague platitudes and rip down the other party, to hopefully win an election by default," he said. "You have to win an election by acclamation, by aspiration, by telling people who you are and what you are going to do, and then go do it once you get there."

If the GOP wins the House, as I assume they will, Ryan really will become a critical figure, it seems to me. He'll be the Chairman of the Budget Committee - and one of six members of the president's Debt Commission. If he can resist the enormous partisan pressure against bipartisan compromise and intellectual honesty, he will be the unlikely hinge in one of the most critical moments in American economic and fiscal history.

Can Ryan keep his nerve?

And does Obama have the integrity to force the Democrats to get real on Medicare as well?

And can they form an alliance against the reactionary wings in both parties?

(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty.)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.