says Dick Armey, and he is right. But I don't think he spells out why it takes so much political courage. Alot of conservatives are thinking of 2010 in terms of 1994, so it might make sense to compare the Ryan Roadmap to the Contract With America. The Contract was a collection of poll-tested rightish proposals that the House Democratic leadership was not willing to support due to some combination of opposition from Democratic political elites (welfare reform), the arrogance of power (ending congressional exemptions to federal regulations) or principle (the tax limitation and budget balancing amendment.)
What the Contract lacked was any provision that seemed to threaten the economic interests of any constituency that Republicans were courting. About the only group that was being directly asked to give anything up were the trial lawyers (families on welfare are a complicated case.). The Ryan Roadmap is a totally different kind of document. It isn't designed to put together a set of popular policy ideas as a campaign document. It is designed to try to answer the hard questions about how to get the long-term deficit to sustainable levels without crushing the economy. That means asking for sacrifices from alot more groups than the trial lawyers. Running on the Roadmap is nothing like running on the Contract. It is more like running on the 1995 Medicare cuts, plus some major Social Security cuts, plus a middle-class tax increase. Oh, and it might cost you your employer-provided health care coverage. Running on that does take courage, but it might also be the wrong political answer in the short and medium term.
It might also be something less than the ideal policy answer. I think that the Ryan Roadmap is best thought of not as the economic policy agenda for the center-right, but as framework for thinking about a broad range of policy problems. Individual Republicans might want to structure the tax burden differently. They might want to transition to a more market-oriented health care system differently. Those might be better ideas and debate between different approaches should be encouraged rather than demanding featly to one plan as a sign of seriousness (something which Ryan himself has never demanded.)
But I'm prone to some of the same vices as Armey and I do recognize that Republicans need something more than just not-Obama. Actually I don't think that (Republicans could probably make big gains just based on the huge flop that "recovery summer" has turned into), but I would like to see the Republicans advance arguments in favor of a set of policies that have a chance of winning majority support and are achievable in the medium term. This would structure the forthcoming debates with Obama in a way that would force Obama to either compromise or hurt his chances for reelection. The Ryan Plan doesn't put that choice to Obama. It makes it easier for him to dig in and paint the Republicans as the party that will cut benefits for Granny, take away your health insurance(and your children's) and raise your taxes for the privilege.
The best such Republican agenda I have seen was the one put together by Ramesh Ponnuru. I would also throw in some version of Medicaid reform that introduces some kind of Swiss-style voucher option into the program.