After serving as the White House press secretary and as a spokesperson for years before that, I learned what it feels like to dread bad headlines.

It used to be you’d wait until the paper was thrown on the stoop and you’d run down the stairs holding your breath to see what it said. Now you just click online after 10 p.m. and that determines the kind of sleep you’ll get that night.

Headlines are often sharp and cutting while the articles themselves are more nuanced, and when read in full aren’t as bad as you first thought. But as reporters love to say, “I don’t write the headlines.”

Today, Democrats (and especially the White House) are reeling from bad headlines about our economic condition. Headlines this week included doom and gloom about the stock market, the housing market, the economic growth revision downward and the dismal job market. Specific examples include The Wall Street Journal’s, “Economic Outlook Darkens;” CNBC’s “Horror for the U.S. Economy as Data Falls Off Cliff” and the Washington Post’s “As Recovery Loses Steam, Few Remedies Left.”

One bad headline is a headache, two is a concern, but three sets off the alarm bells. Once the narrative takes hold, it’s hard to reshape it.

As this storyline has really started to sink in, some very experienced political analysts have described Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap for America” as being too big and bitter a pill for the American people to swallow. Some have even suggested Ryan has done a disservice to his party by proposing it.

Far be it from me to question the judgment of these analysts, but I think it’s worth breaking down their assessments of Ryan’s proposal before claiming he’s trying to sink the ship.

While some say he didn’t lay enough groundwork to sell his proposal to Congress or the public, others have said that his proposal is going to hurt the momentum the GOP built with the 2010 midterm elections, potentially affecting House and Senate races in 2012.

Democrats also love to demagogue Ryan. Their behavior is based solely on his desire to reform a broken, out-of-control program -- aka Medicare – that they want to keep – regardless of costs, consequences or the truth. And the truth is that the entitlements they want to preserve can’t survive unless there arereforms made soon.

Sure, Ryan could have laid more groundwork, but it’s almost always the charge that more is needed with major policy efforts—President Bush faced the same challenge with his Social Security reform proposal. President Obama, too, dealt with the same problem when he passed health care reform without working for more Republican votes, which helped lead to Democrats losing anhistoric number of seats in 2010.

I believe that had Ryan been timid and not faced up to the reality of our situation—that these reforms, including Medicare, are absolutely necessary—it would have ultimately been worse for both Republicans and the conservative movement as it stands. Timidity is not what’s called for, nor would it have been rewarded.

In showing his willingness to take on a very tough issue, Ryan is also showing leadership in re-charting our nation’s economic course. As we saw with this week’s headlines, the White House has us heading in a very different direction—and it ain’t good.

That said, it’s not adequate to place all the blame on the president for the economic numbers as they are – but at this point, 2.5 years into Obama’s presidency, they own this economy fair and square. The economic policies the administration has advanced, first through a partisan Congress and then through the Executive Branch, have had consequences.

I remember in 2009 when Vice President Biden sung the praises of Obama’s recovery plan, welcoming Americans to the “Recovery Summer.” I thought at the time it wasn't good, because if the White House is willing to claim credit for the ups, it also needs to be willing to take the blame for the downs.

Which leads me to wonder: Who, really, is doing their party a disservice—the Republicans, or the Democrats?

Ryan’s budget is helping people accept reality—that cold, sinking feeling they’ve had about the economy, just like the one you get when you realize a relationship isn’t just in dangerous waters, but is about to run aground for good.

Without the White House accepting some responsibility for the state our nation’s ship is in and offering a course-correction, our economic future could hit the rocks.

Dana Perino is a former White House Press Secretary. She is a Fox News contributor, president of Dana Perino and Company, and executive director of Crown Forum. Follow her on Twitter at @DanaPerino.