The response to the annual State of the Union address usually receives about as much attention as a quilting contest.

If the State of the Union address is a yawner, than the response is a sleeper – a deep, deep sleeper. Not this year. With the country’s economy stagnant and jobs as scarce as boyfriends for Ellen DeGeneres, we were ready for the unvarnished truth. That is exactly what we got from Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

This year, the contrast between the president’s speech and the Republican response was striking. Both Obama and Ryan are excellent speakers. While the president is an expert at reading the teleprompter, Ryan is an expert in economics. He can write those speeches as well as deliver them – off the cuff.

Obama has always been adept at making us believe what he believes – or doesn’t: Obama – the government – can solve every problem. Ryan was intent on making us believe the unbelievable: The great U.S. economy is in trouble. We are fast approaching a point from which there will be no way out. The government cannot spend its way out of this hole, nor can it be responsible for the basic needs of every citizen.

Ryan: “We believe, as our founders did, that ‘the pursuit of happiness’ depends upon individual liberty; and individual liberty requires limited government. Limited government also means effective government. When government takes on too many tasks, it usually doesn’t do any of them very well.”

While Obama was promoting spending or “investing” more borrowed money, Ryan maintained that we cannot continue to spend money we don’t have. It has to stop!

Obama proposed to freeze domestic discretionary spending for the next five years. Last year, he proposed a three-year freeze when his party had a lock on Congress. He had the ability to make it happen, but he didn’t. In fact, the Democrats have increased domestic discretionary spending 21 percent in the last two years. Yes, Obama has grown the government at 10 times the rate of inflation, and now he wants us to let it ride.

Meanwhile, just hours before that State of the Union address, the Republican-led House voted to freeze 2011 spending at 2008 levels. Ryan would go further, but this is a start.

Obama railed against earmarks. How many times have we heard that rant before? Meanwhile, Republicans in the House and Senate have banned them for the next two years.

In another thinly veiled effort to make us believe that he is fiscally responsible, Obama mentioned his own fiscal commission that called for tax hikes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit and federal debt. Obama never endorsed it. On Tuesday night, he didn’t give us a clue as to what aspects he supports or opposes. In a sop to his base, Obama did say he wants to increase taxes on the rich (those who create the jobs we so desperately need).

Yes, one of these men is an ideologue. It isn’t Ryan, although he has been called one by his detractors. Ryan voted for TARP and the auto bailout simply because he believed these things were necessary at the time to prevent a total economic collapse.

Ryan, at 41, is nine years younger than the president but has tons more economic and congressional experience. Furthermore, unlike the president and most of his colleagues, he has offered specifics for balancing the budget and reforming entitlements. His proposals, by necessity, are controversial – so controversial that many go-along-to-get-along Republicans have tried to distance themselves from him.

That may now be impossible. Ryan is the new chairman of the House Budget Committee, and his colleagues have voted to give him the unprecedented power to set spending limits for the balance of the year. Bear in mind: All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives. Like it or not, we must – and we will – listen to him.

With this divided government, the president was right when he said, “We will move forward together, or not at all.” This could lead to a government shutdown. Bring it on!

The most important words in either speech came in the form of a warning from Ryan: “Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified – especially when it comes to spending. So hold all of us accountable.”

Paul Ryan’s plans for balancing the nation’s books are not perfect, but at least he has some and he has put them out there. He is one of the few grownups who now hold public office. We need a lot more of them. That’s where you and I come in.

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