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Can we please have a campaign about ideas?

“In a sense, Romney, not an idea man by nature, infused his campaign with a few big ideas, by picking a running mate who has lots of them.”  

Contrary to what many politicians of both parties think the American people can still get excited by a discussion of ideas. Of course, the sad part is that on a national level, the discussion of ideas; about the role of government, our role in the world, and yes, just our philosophy of governance in general, gets a minimum of air time.

 It’s far easier to hatch far-out conspiracy theories about the President’s place of birth, or, to dominate today’s 24 hour news cycle asking the probing question of whether or not Mitt Romney paid 13% in income taxes in 2010.  In this environment ideas get shunted off to the side.

Perhaps, over time, what’s caused this degradation in the national debate is that we have forced our candidates into a kind of “enforced” blandness.  No one, for instance, can question, even for a moment, the allocation of our national defense budget without coming under heavy political assault.  Every line item, even if it’s for systems that even the Pentagon doesn’t want, is sacrosanct. That makes it hard to have a rational debate about shaping a military that can cope with our 21st century enemies. 

 Just as sacred, and just as taboo, is the infamous third rail of politics, Social Security and Medicare.  But, both face financial peril and both should be subjects of national debate.  So, if you can’t discuss the two largest components of our national budget, then what can you talk about?  That’s right you guessed it, Barack Obama’s birth certificate and Mitt Romney’s taxes.

However, this year’s campaign, while it’s going to be full of attack ads, has taken a surprising turn.  And amazingly has the potential of prompting some real debate. That’s because Mitt Romney did something no one was expecting.  He picked a running mate, who, though not helpful in his Electoral College numbers, or all that particularly well known nationally, nonetheless, stakes out some ideological ground.  

Mitt Romney must have done some thinking.  He was hoping he could ride to the White House based solely on the state of the economy.  But, the polls, and the reaction he was getting, said that the man in the White House was still reasonably popular, and that unless Romney could offer a better idea, then well, the American people might stick with the President.  So, Romney picked Ryan, to at least try and make his campaign more about ideas than simply “I’m not Obama.”

Romney, it’s been argued, doesn’t have much of an ideological anchor.  His term as Governor of Massachusetts fit more into the old liberal Republican mode, of say, Nelson Rockefeller, than it did into today’s more conservative GOP.  And so, for most of this year’s primary campaign he tried to convince the faithful that he didn’t mean all that stuff he said and did while he was Governor of the Bay State and was really one of them. 

 They sort of believed him, and he won the nomination, but on a national scale, the campaign didn’t seem capable of drawing any distinctions between a potential President Romney’s agenda and President Obama’s second term.  That’s where Ryan comes in. Like him or not, consider him dangerous, or not, he nonetheless brings more to the ticket, in terms of ideas, than almost any other VP nominee of the past fifty years.

How often do you hear a Presidential candidate endorse his running mate’s budget plan?  Usually, the ideas go the other way, but in a Romney/Ryan ticket, the likely GOP Presidential nominee picked a running mate because he needed ideas.  It’s not a vanilla ticket and it’s changed the entire (forgive the continuing ice cream analogy) flavor of this campaign.       

Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee, is known, as the father of the “Ryan budget.”   This was the budget that was passed by the House but never saw the light of day in the Senate.  It’s a national budget that severely cuts social spending and proposes a new concept for Medicare. 

 Namely, instead of direct payment of healthcare providers, there’s a subsidy for the elderly, so they can go and purchase their own health insurance.  Ryan’s perspective, on most issues related to the role of government, is more focused on markets, less regulation of industry at all levels, and a pruning back of large scale programs.  This is in stark contrast to President Obama and the Democratic campaign.  What it offers is a real choice.

In a sense, Romney, not an idea man by nature, infused his campaign with a few big ideas, by picking a running mate who has lots of them.  Ryan has already come under attack, as he surely expected, but at least, it’s about his ideas and not his birth certificate or his tax returns.  That alone is a refreshing change.  

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