Rep. Paul Ryan, erstwhile GOP vice presidential candidate and chairman of the House Budget Committee, hasn’t been in the spotlight during the shutdown. But his hopeful piece in today’s Wall Street Journal shows why we should be glad he is publicly weighing in:

The president is giving Congress the silent treatment. He's refusing to talk, even though the federal government is about to hit the debt ceiling. That's a shame—because this doesn't have to be another crisis. It could be a breakthrough. We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now. To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code.

Ryan addresses the president’s ahistorical claim that previous presidents haven’t negotiated on the debt ceiling: they have; that’s how an agreement was reached. Ryan also argues that Democrats and Republicans can come together without sacrificing principles—as Ryan and Democratic Rep. Ron Wyden did to create proposals for reforming Medicare. Tragically, Congress instead opted to ram through the vastly unpopular, one-sided ObamaCare.

Ryan contends that, if he were willing to talk about budget reform, the president would find that there are matters on which both sides can agree. Given that the Democrats seem purely power-driven this may be too optimistic. But he makes the point that the GOP should be making daily and more effectively:

Just as a good investment gets higher returns through compound interest, structural reforms produce greater savings over time. Most important, they make the programs more secure. They protect them for current seniors and preserve them for the next generation. That's what the president and Congress should talk about.

Yes, it is the Democrats who will bankrupt the programs they ostensibly fight to preserve and enlarge. Ryan is so good and so smart. He provides the intellectual ballast that should equip the GOP to go to the public and make a compelling argument. But they never do make their arguments. They don’t know how to talk to anybody other than Beltway Republicans (and I’m not sure they are able to talk to each other at this point.)

No gap in American politics is more damning to the GOP than the Rhetoric Gap. The Democrats accuse them of being arsonists and anarchists and they have no comeback. Thomas Sowell addressed the Rhetoric Gap yesterday in an important piece on the “Inarticulate Republicans” in which Sowell noted that in the midst of a national crisis, the GOP isn’t making its case.

If the continued existence of mathematics depended on the ability of the Republicans to defend the proposition that two plus two equals four, it would probably mean the end of mathematics and of all the things that require mathematics.

The Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, epitomized what has been wrong with the Republicans for decades when he emerged from a White House meeting last Wednesday, went over to the assembled microphones, briefly expressed his disgust with the Democrats’ intransigence, and walked on away.

We are in the midst of a national crisis, immediately affecting millions of Americans and potentially affecting the kind of country this will become if Obamacare goes into effect — and yet, with multiple television-network cameras focused on Speaker Boehner as he emerged from the White House, he couldn’t be bothered to prepare a statement that would help clarify a confused situation, full of fallacies and lies.

I’d love to know what Henry Clay, the man who made the speakership an office to be reckoned with, would make of the current occupant of the chair. Clay was one of the republic’s great orators in an era of great orators. (He also had a terrific sense of humor.) Speaker Boehner, it is time to learn to speak to us. Don’t talk about the CR (Washingtonspeak for Continuing Resolution). Talk about the challenge to our nation. You can do it. (By the way, Eric Cantor had a good piece on the role of Congress in debt celing negotiations; no, it wasn't the ringing stump speech we need to inspire the public, but it was very good.)

Despite the inability of the GOP to make the case, President Obama’s vindictive and arbitrary use of the shutdown (Mrs. Obama’s websites up, amber alert websites down; vets shut out of memorials, congressional gym open) may be speaking loudly. He was reduced to having conservative columnists plus Kathleen Parker to a hush-hush confab at the White House. The president has led such an intellectually sheltered (cocooned?) life that he was probably surprised that they didn’t have horns.