Observing the 2012 presidential debates, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, as a nation, we suffer from a deep political schizophrenia. We expect – no, we demand – contradictory things from our elected officials. Then, when they can't deliver Cadillacs at Chevy prices, we replace them with a new group of snake oil salesmen.
Among political types, this is called the Pogo Principle: "We have met the enemy and he is us." Others have put it more bluntly: In a democracy, we get the politicians we deserve. In the election season, we get to shoot the messenger and call it democracy in action.
Here is the immediate problem. We live in a nation on the verge of fiscal bankruptcy with a citizen cadre that does not want to even hear the word austerity, much less hear the list of government programs that must be scaled back if we are to avoid calamity. You think it's only the "47 percent" or food-stamp recipients who don't want to hear the bad news? Think again.
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We shake our heads at the "lazy Greeks" who riot in the streets against government spending cuts, but really, are we far behind? Do you see any group volunteering to walk away from the public trough?
In the current presidential debates, neither major candidate will name any specific, taxpayer-funded benefit that must be cut. Instead, we hear calls to "save" and "protect" programs through "reform." We never cut programs; we only "reform" them so we can walk away. And reforms must always – always – have their impact in the "out-years," decades into the future, so no current beneficiary will suffer a loss – and those out-year expenditures can always be changed (i.e., restored) in the next session of the legislature.
Have there been exceptions to the lack of honesty in public finance? No, not unless you insist on calling Apollo 13 a successful moon landing.
Take, for example, the great bipartisan Social Security reform of 1983. It didn't actually "fix" Social Security. It postponed the day of reckoning through modest tinkering such as delaying the retirement age. So, Social Security remains a Ponzi scheme built on the willingness of younger workers to trust government more than their own investment plans to provide for their retirement. And do we reward politicians who tell younger workers the truth about this program? No, we punish them through orchestrated demagoguery aided by a group of partisan cheerleaders called the mainstream media.
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Yet, Social Security is a model of responsible public financing compared to Medicare, which is on an accelerating downward trajectory to bankruptcy. To their credit, Romney and Ryan have not backed away from the sensible Medicare reform proposals in the "Ryan Budget." But if Romney loses Florida, it will be because Democrats succeeded in frightening enough senior citizens into thinking that plan will cut their lifeline.
Our aversion to honest debate on political problems extends to social issues as well – and obviously to foreign policy. Joe "the Joker" Biden asserts that Romney court appointees will "outlaw abortion," while Obama's press spokesman insists that Obama never denied that the Benghazi attack was the work of terrorists. What is astonishing about such lies is not that the Obama team utters them almost daily but that it does so with such impunity. They get away with serial deceptions because a huge segment of the electorate is eager to swallow the falsehoods.
Yet, we have to admit that both sides engage in dishonest public posturing. Where in the Republican platform or the Romney campaign is there an honest discussion or even acknowledgment that 12 million illegal aliens are taking jobs from citizens and legal immigrants and that this greatly exacerbates the unemployment problem?
Will honest debate and honest solutions be rewarded or punished on Nov. 6? I'm not holding my breath.