As John wrote earlier today, liberals are convinced that Mitt Romney’s choice of Paul Ryan to be his running mate offers them a golden opportunity to savage the Republicans about the Wisconsin congressman’s budget plans. Predictably, the New York Times delivered one of the first such salvos in its editorial posted hours after Romney announced his pick in which it slammed Ryan as “callous” and claimed his attempt to control the nation’s out-of-control entitlements would leave the poor and the elderly sicker while also harming the unemployed and students. Not considering it advisable to even make a pretense of noting the GOP veep candidate’s strengths, the Times thought it advisable to go for the jugular first and worry about nuance later. We can expect the rest of the liberal mainstream media to do no less in the days and weeks that will follow.

However, it must be noted that the expectation by liberals that they can get away with such blatant demagoguery is not entirely without foundation. The pick of Ryan should energize the Republican base and will lend intellectual heft to a Romney campaign that has often seemed intent on merely waiting for the voters to fire Barack Obama rather than putting forward its own vision. But we know that “Mediscare” tactics employed by the Democrats have worked sometimes. And, as Times political blogger and statistical analyst Nate Silver pointed out on Wednesday, Ryan brings no obvious or immediate tactical political advantages to the Republicans. If Romney’s choice does anything it is to provide a test for the electorate. Are they prepared to listen to reasoned arguments articulated by Ryan about the need for entitlement reform, or will they succumb to simplistic liberal cant about pushing grandma over the cliff? As much as conservatives want to believe the American public is not so foolish or shortsighted as to simply accept the left’s defense of the status quo, we won’t know the answer to that question until November.

The assumption on the part of many observers that Ryan’s elevation is the result of Romney’s understanding that his campaign needed a turnaround in the same manner as many of the companies he built at Bain Capital may not be true. It may be that Romney came to the conclusion that Ryan was the best qualified candidate of all those on his short list and saw in him a kindred soul who could govern effectively with him. If so, I think he was right. Ryan is, as Romney described him, the intellectual leader of his party, and a willingness by the GOP standard-bearer to make an ideas maven his running mate speaks well for his judgment. But there should be no misunderstanding about the fact that a lot of the blind optimism about the election one heard from Republicans in recent months was unjustified. Romney did need to shake up the race and he has done so.

President Obama’s electoral liabilities are well-known. He has presided over a poor economy and his major accomplishments — the enactment of a massive stimulus spending bill and his signature health care plan — are deeply unpopular. But his historic status as the first African-American president and the darling of the liberal media gives him advantages that are just as important. Without them, he would, as a president who faces the people with a higher unemployment rate than he inherited and with negative job approval ratings, be facing an epic defeat this fall rather than possessing a slim lead in the polls.

All of which means Romney’s decision to directly challenge the president by presenting conservative ideas that provide a strong contrast to the Democrat’s grim defense of the liberal status quo is a good idea. Romney can’t win by being passive. But it must be admitted that there is no guarantee that the liberals’ bet that scare tactics will prevail over the demand for rational reform will not prevail.

If anyone can provide a positive and well thought out answer to the deluge of fear mongering we will be subjected to in the coming months it is Ryan. It should also be remembered that just two years ago, the strength of the ideas of the Tea Party helped the GOP win a landslide in the 2010 midterms. The president and his backers may believe his presence on the ticket combined with an all-out assault to demonize Romney and Ryan will overwhelm the calls for an end to the endless cycle of taxing and spending. The battle has been joined and it will be up to the American people to determine which of these strategies is the one that will triumph.