The presidential race has just become far more interesting with the choice of Paul Ryan as running mate for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Now, instead of endless litanies about who can work miracles (jumpstarting a sluggish economy), presidential and vice-presidential candidates in both parties will be compelled to debate the future of Medicare and Social Security in this nation.
The two parties’ approaches to those bedrock programs are night-and-day different. Ryan has been hailed by his Republican supporters as a virtual visionary for daring to propose a bold budget plan, part of which calls for a radical alteration of the Medicare system, a health-care system for people 65 and older that was introduced when Lyndon Baines Johnson was president. Ryan, in his second draft of his budget plan, proposes allowing some people to stick with the present Medicare system but allowing others to receive vouchers from the federal government with which they could use to buy private insurance plans. Some have accused Ryan of wanting to get rid of Medicare entirely by shredding it into uselessness. Ryan is one of those new-right Republicans, so popular with the Tea Party, who believes all taxes should be cut drastically across the board, government should be trimmed back to its bare bones and most government programs should be dumped in favor of letting the private marketplace or private charities serve those needs.
Pres. Barack Obama, on the other hand, believes Medicare should be preserved more or less intact, with incremental changes along the way to help it maintain its financial viability in the coming decades. Unlike new-right Republicans, Obama and most Democrats strongly believe there is a valid and even vital need for federal government programs to help the unfortunate, the working poor and the middle class, most of whom have lost ground in the past decade. Democrats tend to think the marketplace and free enterprise cannot be counted on to fill such needs, including education, health and economic security. Democrats also tend to believe in the strong regulatory function of government in an effort to restrain the kind of runaway greed and corruption in the banking-investment industry that nearly toppled the economy of the United States.
It used to be, not that many years ago, the Democratic and Republican parties were like those Venn diagrams we learned about in math classes: two different round circles that overlap each other to some degree. The overlapped portion was the “commonality” shared by both circles, both political parties. There was a time, not too many years ago, when Democrats and Republicans actually came to agreements that both thought would benefit the common good. Those days are gone. Nowadays, sadly, the two parties are so far apart on virtually every issue, they might as well be distant planets, revolving on their own in separate universes.
Year after year, we have seen nothing but frustrating deadlock in Congress.
That is why Ryan’s entry in the race is welcome. He and Romney will have to articulate in detail just what they think the role of the federal government should be, the Medicare issue being just one example. Obama and Vice Pres. Joseph Biden will also have to share with us their versions of what the federal government ought to do.
There is a gulf as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon between the contenders. In this presidential election, we the voters will indeed have something very serious to choose between. This election, in fact, calls a lie to that old cynical saying, “Oh, shoot, it doesn’t matter who you vote for; they’re all the same thing.”
No, they’re not. Not by a long shot.