Editor's note: Anita McBride is an executive-in-residence at America University in Washington. She was first lady Laura Bush's chief of staff and worked in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.
(CNN) -- When Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media frenzy surrounding the announcement included claims that the choice was bad for women and that it would not attract women voters. Ryan's pro-life voting record was especially highlighted, and once again, the "war on women" came to the forefront and diverted attention from the ultimate women's issue in this election -- our dire economic future.
It is misguided to think that women vote as a bloc. We are a diverse group, and it is nearly impossible for any candidate to appeal to all sides of the political spectrum. The reality is that women's top concerns are the same as men's, and like men, women are more likely to vote along party lines.
U.S. Rep. Ryan's addition to the Republican ticket ensures that the debate about the economy will be vigorous. For women, and all Americans, nothing can be more important.
Women I know and talk to around the country are struggling with a new normal -- unemployment or underemployment, declining wages, having to work harder and longer to make ends meet, increasing food prices, rising gas prices and most of all the fear that their kids will have it even tougher than they do. They are making difficult decisions every day when it comes to their family budget. It is not a rosy picture.
Why would Ryan appeal to women? A peek at his early life is illuminating.
Ryan, who grew up the son of a lawyer, lost his father at 16 and was then raised by a single mother. He helped to care for a grandmother afflicted with Alzheimer's disease who lived with the family, worked after school at McDonald's to earn extra money and used some of his father's Social Security death benefits to help pay his way through school.
I appreciate Ryan's personal experiences. Having lost my own mother to cancer at 3, I grew up with my father working two jobs and lived with my grandparents, who took care of us. I also used Social Security death benefits to help put myself through school and became the first in my family of immigrants to go to college.
The Ryan family, like many families in America today, was not immune to experiencing a period of uncertainty. Ryan says this formative period in his life shaped his attitude about self-reliance -- it never occurred to him that his life would not get better. At an event in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday he reminded the audience that aspirations are at the heart of the American Dream.
Over the past week, we have learned a lot more about Ryan's own path and his career in Washington as a budget wonk, rising to become the youngest chairman of the House Budget Committee. There are many voices in Washington, but few have the depth and knowledge about the $16 trillion national debt and its crippling effect on the country and the aspirations of future generations.
I find it reassuring that Romney made the choice to select Paul Ryan.
Ryan has distinguished himself by having the courage to offer big ideas and he is forcing a serious discussion about how to reform entitlements. He deserves credit for talking tough and leveling with the American people about what's involved in changing the course of our current predicament.
We all know President Barack Obama walked into a very dire economic situation when he came to office, but over the past few years, his policy of growing the government has not put the nation back to work. The poverty rate of women, for example, has climbed to its highest level in nearly two decades and doubts about providing for their families have not been alleviated.
American women have to ask themselves if they want a federal government that respects their hard-earned dollars as much as it respects their right to choose.
When they do, I am confident they will not be distracted by media hype and attack ads painting Ryan as hostile to women's concerns; rather, they will find his efforts to stop the buck from being passed to another generation very appealing.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anita McBride.