Here’s hoping for a serious election

I was scheduled to be on CNN early Saturday morning, but got bumped because of the day’s big news: Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his VP pick.

While I wasn’t happy to have woken up at 5:30 for no reason (the baby woke up shortly thereafter, so I guess it’s all a wash) I’m quite intrigued by the Ryan pick. I think it bodes well for a campaign that may actually be about something serious, and will present a real choice between two different philosophies.

Campaigns in general have a tendency to center on small issues — who had a “gaffe” on which day, what the day’s optics might be. Quotes get taken completely out of context, people feign great offense about only mildly offensive things. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate has been over 8 percent for years, the national debt is out of control and there’s a widespread sense of diminished expectations.

Whatever you think about Ryan — and I’m sure there’s plenty to criticize, all of which we’ll learn soon — he’s made his name by daring to talk about a big issue: entitlements. Social Security and Medicare consume huge and growing chunks of the federal budget, yet they’ve long seemed politically sacrosanct. People feel they’ve “paid in” — though really all taxes are about paying in for goods and services potentially received at some other time — and get very upset about them being touched in a way they don’t get upset about, say, road paving budgets. Politicians know this, of course, and many a campaign has centered on accusing one’s opponent of doing something awful with these political third rails.

But eventually something has to be done to either reform these entitlements, wind them down, or make them more sustainable. I have my own political opinions on what should be done, but we can’t pretend that nothing should be done. All reforms will cause pain to someone, whether it’s higher taxes or lower benefits in whatever form that takes (means testing, raising retirement ages, vouchers, etc.) Refusing to talk seriously about this is just, well, silly.

By choosing Ryan as his VP pick, Romney is showing he’s up for having an election about actual issues that actually affect lots of people (as opposed to a host of meaningless red meat, be it banning extremely rare abortion procedures, rallying against Islamic cultural centers in downtown Manhattan, etc.). For that we can be grateful. I’m hoping to see a serious debate about what future federal budgets will look like — and hoping Romney’s opponent will step up to the plate with his vision too.

23 thoughts on “Here’s hoping for a serious election

  1. I have a slightly more cynical view of all of this. Romney chose a running mate who isn’t going to persuade more people to vote for him — rather, it gives people on the far-right who didn’t like him but were going to vote for him by default something to be excited about. I think there’s going to be a lot of extra bitterness, animosity, and name-calling from both sides during this election now (seriously, “Rombot”and “Obummer”? Why do I even read the comment section of news stories?). I really hope I’m wrong.

    I vote almost entirely based on social issues, and my views are such that I would never consider the Romney/Ryan ticket. But on economic issues I’m open to considering all options, and Paul Ryan’s willingness to touch those third rails is intriguing. I would love to see a good debate between both sides, with real numbers, no sneakiness, and no hyperbole. But I don’t think that will ever happen.

    1. @CMWP – I could be wrong, of course. On the other hand, I think there were more “red meat” conservative types that Romney could have chosen. Think those in the Rick Santorum camp. Ryan is obviously very conservative, but in such a wonky way that I’m not sure the 8-hours-of-talk-radio-daily wing of the party would be all that into him. But yeah, I stay away from comments on political sites because politics are such these days that I’m not sure anyone who visits such a site is going to convince anyone else who visits such a site.

      1. I hope you’re right — I really do. Because I’m *this close* to going on a media diet for the next three months. It’s like both sides think we’re all incapable of understanding the numbers and the cold, hard facts and instead have to be emotionally manipulated into voting for people.

    2. Ryan seems not to be that controversial to the left on social issues… He supports gay marriage etc.
      His big thing seems to be that he wants to privatize medicare….
      Personally Medicare as I understand it is a program for the elderly — who are on fixed incomes. I personally cannot see why the right and Republicans want to take on the issue of big
      He like all the male politicians has a stay at home wife … Even michelle obama is kind of a stay at home wife… research shows that men who have stay at home wives are lousy managers in the private sector of working women. since I am a working woman I am not optimistic about gov’s role in my success b/c of this issue — if all the leaders of the free world have stay-at-home wives… and no women lead… that can’t be good for me personally unless somehow they take up “My” issues out of need for “my” vote — pretty sure ryan and romney are not going to do that… also sure that neither side has a clear understanding of the small business owner who sells say under $1 million dollars a year.. when most politicians talk about business owners they mean businesses that sell over $75 million a year… a flat tax structure and limits on how much you need to pay an accountant to follow the law and pay taxes as a business owner would be a start but if your only talk of business is for someone who sells more than $75 million a year you aren’t talking to MOST of the folks who run businesses in this country.. as a mom business owner I generally don’t think that politics reflects very much about my needs as a voter. I do support immigration reform and immigration period. I think letting someone into the us because they are law abiding and want to work IS good for small business, entrepreneurship and america so I may vote on that issue since no one in the political sphere speaks to my issues. sarah palin lost me when she started attacking medicaid covering women’s breast pumps… they all loose me when they start talking about what the wives of politicians are wearing !

  2. I’m Canadian so don’t get a vote, but my husband is American and very passionate about US politics, so it has infected me as well…(Plus, I lived in the US for 6 years) This isn’t a political blog, so I’ll keep my own personal political views to myself as much as possible, but I absolutely agree that America has to start tackling some big issues rather than parsing every speech the other candidate has made (see: Romney’s “gaffes” on his overseas trips, Obama’s “insult” to people building businesses, etc.) I mean, honestly, I’m rooting for you guys because the alternatives in terms of a “superpower” in the world are frankly somewhat terrifying. But I just think the US will not be able to hold on to that position without making some tough choices in the short and medium term. People are scared of those choices, which is natural, but a leader is supposed to lead, isn’t he/she? Sometimes, you have to bring people to a place they wouldn’t otherwise go on their own…(I guess the problem is, how does somebody like that get elected???)

    1. @Rinna- I do hope we can talk about these things seriously. Unfortunately, recent budget talks have been profoundly unserious. Take Social Security. We’ve now had a payroll tax cut in place for quite a while. So we’re cutting taxes without reducing benefits at all. Hmmm. Maybe sacrificing a chicken will help too.

      1. Hey – don’t knock chicken sacrifice!!! (If this were a political website, I would just ignore the whole point of your post and focus on the one sentence that can easily be mocked or distorted and write a whole retort about how Laura Vanderkam is anti-animal…See – I could work for one of the campaigns!)

        1. Ahh, but to truly be a campaign ad you would also have to include the comments about outsourcing housework and say she’s also anti-middle-class. Get an ominous sounding voice-over. “Laura Vanderkam — wrong for animals, wrong for the middle-class, wrong for America”

          1. Haha – good point…well, I think we’ve established that you can no longer run for public office, @Laura!

      2. right? everyone supports :
        a. paying less tax
        b. lots of free shxt from anyone especially the gov

        most people understand you cannot have both …
        I think that one side should take up one issue and one side should take up the o ther then sell their ideas to voters… what I don’t understand is how people think they can have both

    2. Rinna, may I ask what the tone of Canadian political debate is like? I’m genuinely curious — do people get as crazy and bitter up there as they do here? Do they threaten to move to other countries if elections don’t go their way? Here it seems like whichever side “loses” an election thinks the world is going to end as a result.

      1. @CMWP- I don’t know the specifics about Canada, but I do know that the two-party system has its downsides. The parliamentary system means that major parties have to broker with minor parties in order to form a majority coalition, so the necessity of compromise is built into the governing structure. Of course, compromise by itself is neither good nor bad, and if the minor parties have rather wacky platforms, a parliamentary system can give them more power than they deserve. Then again, in our system a wing-nut can get elected from an extreme district (on either side) and hold a lot of stuff hostage too.

      2. @cmwp – I do think that Cdn political debate is somewhat more muted/civil, but that might be a by-product of the general approach to doing things in Canada…generally quite nice/boring (yawn!). But, even here, the last election had a decent amount of mud-slinging. Probably would be ocnsidered amature hour in the US elections but also tended to veer to the non-substantive. I’d just love it if politicians could actually anwer a quesiton sometime, you know??
        To Laura’s point, we actually finally have a majority government in Canada for the last couple of years after many years of a minority…Truthfully, it’s good to have both – you need periods of a majority to get hard things done but need the threat of a minority to force you to move to the centre and work together. A minority government never pleases the extremists, but then again, what does? (Ann Coulter – I’m talking about you! I would mention a left-wing nut too but the name escapes me…)

        1. Hmm…Michael Moore is pretty nutty! Though instead of identifying nuts, I’d love to figure out who on each side is honest. Nobody can be unbiased, but it would be great if pundits/commentators/talk-show hosts could at least be upfront about their biases and still stick to the facts.

  3. I agree with your premise that it’s time to stop sticking our heads in the sand and acknowledging that it’s time to face the size of the federal deficit.

    You’ve left out the equally large sacred cow of the federal budget: military spending. We went to war, and chose to cut taxes in practically the same breath. Pointing the finger at entitlements without considering military spending overlooks an enormous part of the picture.

    1. @Amy- not a sacred cow for me! But I think military spending is at least being talked about. The automatic budget cuts that are supposed to happen because that congressional working group couldn’t agree on other cuts do dig into Pentagon spending. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of congressional types going around claiming the defense cuts are the end of the world (in a way that cutting other spending is not). There is definitely a lot of bloat.

  4. I personally cannot see why the right and Republicans want to take on the issue of big gov by privatizing medicare which is a program for the retired and elderly … who are on fixed incomes and now there are no pensions in this country.. is that really the only place we can find $$? I think defense is too much spending … and that part of a politicians “salary” should be in being a good enough diplomat so we don’t have to pay for so much defense.. more flies with sugar kind of thing … i am definitely against big gov and big spending but I think if ryan says no medicare than he is going to have to cut the tax rate on retirees to 5% and on everyone to a flat tax of 15% … i agree with it if it makes gov smaller and less expensive to the citizens but there is no evidence by them privatizing medicare that will happen. would love to see something that says hey –b uy your own dxmn medicare but i will not charge you income tax… that will never happen .. if it would i would then be for it. cutting gov programs doesn’t really cut the cost of gov to us the citizens does it?

    1. I think privatizing medicare and social security would be a mistake. But what about continuing to adjust the eligibility ages for collecting benefits? If people collect less money because they spend fewer years in retirement, and also contribute more because they spend more years working, that’s a start.

      1. incentivizing people to work seems reasonable…I think the ww II example would do a lot for working women in this country if we followed it… i mean if you are sick and you cant’ work but you have worked seems fair to let you collect your $ but me as a woman I’d love and prefer to work until 80 and would want some kind of incentive for doing so …like hey I’ll wait to take my medicare but you pay me more per can’t just be like.. hey lady I need money for pakistan so you gotta work longer… and then not give me anything for doing that for you the gov. you have to make me want to do it … i think if gov worked more like the private sector with carrots like hey tax credit for you or your kid if you take your medicare later ..t hat would be better

  5. Ryan’s budget plans demonstrate that he doesn’t understand how adverse selection and insurance work. From a pragmatic economic standpoint, they’re jokes, not serious.
    There are serious plans to “fix” Medicare and Social Security (in fact, some of the Medicare fixes have been hidden in Obamacare), but they don’t look anything like what Ryan has proposed. And yes, everyone in DC knows this is an upcoming crisis but nobody wants to take political responsibility. Ideally they would work together and implement one of the “Gang of X” compromise plans before the changes to be made get too drastic. There are several compromise plans out there that would spread out and minimize the pain, so long as we don’t wait until the last minute. Peter Orzag gives a good description of these different potential plans.

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