Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan's plan for reducing the frightening federal deficit calls for some harsh medicine. Just for starters, Ryan proposes privatizing or placing limits on spending for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the nation's big three but much-depended-on entitlement programs.

So the reaction from readers to a recent piece on these pages outlining the Republican's plan was surprising. The expected fear and loathing was in short supply. Instead, many of those commenting seemed relieved that someone, somewhere, was proposing something that might actually work: a plan that would stem the nation's red-ink spending and balance its books. (Ryan's plan would take a while -- until 2080 -- to achieve that goal, but it does get there eventually.)

The takeaway lesson from all of this is not that Ryan's plan holds all the answers. It doesn't. Relying solely on spending cuts, as his plan does, isn't realistic. In particular, the changes proposed for the entitlement programs transfers too much risk to future seniors and other vulnerable people who will need them.

Instead, the lesson here is that Americans want their political leaders to treat them as adults. They know the nation's borrowing and profligate spending is on a catastrophic course. They understand that hard choices lie ahead. Ryan is one of the rare politicians who believes that Americans are ready to handle the truth.

So far, few politicians have lent their names and support to Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future.'' Leaders from both parties have distanced themselves from it. The bill introduced by the congressman from the Badger State's southeast corner has just 11 cosponsors -- all of them Republicans and none of them from Minnesota. A spokesman for Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a likely 2012 Republican presidential contender, said this week that Pawlenty hasn't studied the plan but supports entitlement reform as well as a federal balanced-budget amendment.

Voters intrigued by Ryan's road map shouldn't be disappointed by the plan's tepid support. What they should be concerned about is the lack of alternatives, ones that truly lay out a detailed plan for paying off the nation's maxed-out credit card. It shouldn't just be a choice between runaway spending and the overly austere plan put forth by one guy from Wisconsin. There are other ways out of the nation's current fiscal mess. The grass-roots reaction to Ryan's plan suggests that a political leader willing to talk about them honestly and specifically will be rewarded, not punished.