Path to the Presidency: Principle Over Personality

Five debates down, ten to go. Deciding on the best candidate to match up against President Obama will continue to be a long, winding road over the next several months. It’s an exciting time, when all manner of center-right ideologies are jockeying for position.

Yet debates are inherently problematic, as the Nixon/Kennedy face-off famously proved; looking good on TV is all about style, not substance. It’s part of our civic duty to look past the personalities and one-liners, instead searching for signals of how this man or woman will set priorities, make decisions and lead our nation.

Year after year, certain issues emerge as debate fodder: stuff too complex to fully explain in two minutes, but easy to throw rhetorical bombs at if your opponent has clearly defined a position. Now I’m a simple guy, so this will only be a fly-over view of one such issue. The goal here is to distinguish between a grand vision for America, and just grandstanding.

New Candidate Tackles an Old Problem

Since joining the field of candidates in the past month, the Governor of Texas has ignited peoples’ passions—both for and against him. While the left sees another George Bush, the right finds his nuanced immigration views challenging… and some corporate connections troubling. Yet what’s undeniable about Governor Rick Perry is his penchant for putting the national debt in stark terms while other candidates are, by and large, spouting talking points.

Our nation’s $14 trillion debt is actually easy to understand. President Obama recently proposed a budget for 2012 that has one category eating up 58% of the total amount: entitlement programs, known popularly as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

The first two I listed are the biggies, offering health care and retirement benefits to seniors who have paid into the system. Because Americans are living a lot longer than in the 1930’s when Social Security was started, the finances of that program simply do not add up today.

“We have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children’s age, and say, ‘Listen, this is a broken system,'” says Perry. “It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. We’re going to fix it so that young Americans going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there were some people who came along that didn’t lie to them and told them the truth.”

By the way, that 58% for entitlement programs contrasts rather starkly with the national defense spending category (19%) and foreign aid (2%). When anyone asserts we can fix the debt and avoid a fiscal crisis like Greece without dealing extensively with entitlement reform, ask to see the numbers. Because they don’t exist.

It’s true that seniors are a powerful voting bloc and it scares some of them to hear we must reform these programs. But we can do it and still ensure a strong safety net for those who need the vital support these programs offer. For a real plan with real numbers behind it, check out SavingTheDream.org

Perry v. Romney

Lately Perry has clashed with Governor Mitt Romney. Admittedly the former Governor of Massachusetts has strengths as a candidate, notably his private and public sector management experience.

On this issue he tries to use Perry’s boldness against him. “The term ‘Ponzi scheme’ I think is over the top, unnecessary and frightful to many people,” Romney says. He then proceeds to insinuate that Perry’s reform proposals for these programs will hurt seniors.

Truth is, it will take strong words and even stronger political courage to make real changes to the drivers of our national debt. Which makes this an ideal way to determine if a candidate is a pathfinder on the biggest factor weighing down our economy, or if one is just posturing.

Cross-posted on ORU Oracle

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