Back in the 1990s, the longest-running television comedy was Seinfeld, the show based on the life of the comedian of the same name, which was about… nothing.
Until last Friday, this year’s election was in danger of being the Seinfeld election — a lot of nasty rhetoric about… nothing. For the last few months, the main argument of both parties has been, “the other party’s guy is awful.” Not an elevating basis on which to choose the next Leader of the Free World.
Romney’s argument has been, “the Obama economy is terrible,” which frankly should be a winning argument. Various economics-based electoral prediction models will tell you that nobody gets re-elected President with an 8.3% unemployment rate. (Of course, those same models predicted Al Gore winning in a landslide in 2000.) Obama’s argument has been, “Romney is a nasty rich white man.”
With his choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Romney has changed the race. He has chosen to make this election about something. Better, he has chosen to make it about the single largest issue facing the country — will we reform our system of taxing and spending soon enough to avoid a Greek-style financial crisis, what will that reform look like, and will the result preserve a United States that offers economic growth and opportunity consistent with our history?
Whether you like his plan or not, Paul Ryan, as Chair of the House Budget Committee, has offered a serious plan to address what I believe is an existential challenge, and gotten that plan passed by the House of Representatives — twice. So far the Democrat-led Senate has offered no plan, nor has the White House offered anything the least bit serious.
At this point, the Obama campaign is counting on people hating the profound changes required by Ryan’s plan so much that they will ignore two facts: first, that Obama refuses to offer any alternative plan to balance the budget, and second, that we are on track toward a fiscal catastrophe difficult to exaggerate.
Our national conversation about how to save ourselves from that fiscal catastrophe is only beginning. This election may or may not advance it substantively. But at least the great issue of our times is now on the table.