If Democrats allow Republicans to frame the upcoming debate over Paul Ryan’s proposals as a debate over whether dramatically changing Medicare in isolation is or isn’t necessary to salvage our fiscal situation, Dems will be in a weak position at the outset.

The Associated Press talked to voters on Paul Ryan’s home turf, and discovered that even they are uneasy about his Medicare proposals. But take a look at why they’re uneasy:

“I think that’s one of the things they should probably leave alone -- you know -- unless it’s absolutely necessary,” [unemployed warehouse manager Brian] Krutsch said as he took a break from reviewing job openings at the Rock County Job Center. “Old people need help with medical bills. There’s too many people under-insured right now -- especially people like myself right now who don’t have insurance.”...

Howard Gage, a 74-year-old Medicare recipient who owns a three-person video-production company, said he has voted for Ryan in all seven races, still supports the congressman and likes him as a person. But, he added, it’s hard to accept that fixing the budget should mean that his family wouldn’t receive the same Medicare benefits that he relies on.

“It bothers me that my kids or grandchildren might be affected by whatever has to be done” to curb spending, he said.

These folks are worried about doing away with Medicare as we know it, but they are grappling with whether or not this will be necessary to put the nation on firmer fiscal footing. This suggests that they are not aware of the full Democratic case against the GOP approach to the deficit — that Republicans are also insisting on maintaining the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and that those cuts are part of what would make it necessary to reshape Medicare dramatically, in order to help pay for them. In other words, they are proceeding from the premise that Ryan’s Medicare proposal is about fixing our fiscal situation in a way that would spread the pain around evenly — and not aware that it would shift the burden for fixing our fiscal situation downward, in keeping with conservative tax-cutting ideology.

From the outset, it’s been clear that the key to Ryan’s sales pitch would be twofold: Persuade folks that there’s a severe crisis that needs addressing, and more crucially, that his solution to the problem would involve spreading sacrifice around evenly to everyone. This is why it’s so important for Obama to draw a sharp line and insist that high end tax increases must be part of the discussions, period, full-stop. It’s a good way to force Republicans to defend the priorities at the core of their proposals. If this becomes just a debate over whether we have a problem and how far we should go in overhauling “entitlements” to fix it, rather than a debate over who would bear the brunt of fixing our fiscal problem under the proposed overhauls, then Dems will already be in a weak position and will have a tougher time drawing a hard line against any major entitlement changes, presuming that’s what they are still hoping to do.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I was wrong to define the Dem case against Paul Ryan’s proposals as I did; rather, their case is against the totality of the GOP approach to the deficit. I’ve edited the above to fix.