This is a serious time for the nation. The economy is bad. Jobs are scarce, wages are stagnant, people are losing their homes, retirement security is a mirage. Our students are falling behind. Our roads and bridges are crumbling. We're strung out on fossil fuels, at war abroad and threatened at home. Our can-do spirit is slipping away.
It's got many people thinking the once unthinkable: That the American dream may be dead. Our once unshakable conviction - that if we work hard and play by the rules, our lot in life will improve and our kids will do even better than we did - has been shaken.
At this pivotal moment, when anger and fear threaten to overtake common sense, when so many politicians exploit our emotions instead of offering leadership, we must not be distracted from what really matters: how to best run this country.
It's against that dark backdrop that voters will go to the polls Nov. 2 to elect a new Congress. We have to decide what we really want from government and what we can pay for.
If that's the lower taxes, less regulation and smaller government that Republicans promise in their Pledge to America, then it's important to be realistic about what that would actually look like.
Washington does tax and spend a lot. Cutting taxes and spending in ways that would make a difference is hard business. It would require deep cuts in popular programs that we've come to rely on, from Social Security and Medicare to the military and homeland security.
The inescapable truth is that those items, together with interest on the national debt, account for more than the federal government raises in taxes. Leave them untouched and cut every other dime Washington spends, and the federal budget would still be in the red.
Maintaining the promise of Social Security and Medicare and guaranteeing their continued solvency will have to include slowing the rate at which their costs are rising.
But if we're to remain the rich, powerful nation that we are, there's no escaping the need to invest in America. A commitment to rebuild the country's infrastructure, modernize the energy grid, shift to green power, improve our schools and more will cost money. But the economy of the future demands we do it.
The notion that cutting taxes and regulation will magically create jobs has been disproved. Washington cut almost $2 trillion in taxes over the last decade. In that time the federal government has gone from a budget surplus to crushing deficits and debt. And lax regulation contributed to the risky business on Wall Street that cratered the financial services system and ushered in the Great Recession.
So this election is a defining moment. Democrats and Republicans in Washington are poisonously polarized. This election will determine which party controls Congress - and to some extent the nation's agenda - for the next two years.
Voters can't afford to be deluded by promises of easy fixes and meaningless pledges. Simplistic, ideological bromides won't solve any of these problems. We need more representatives who are willing to be pragmatic problem solvers, not ideological purists. We need more people willing to work across party lines. We need more people with vision beyond the next news cycle or the next election.
Vote for candidates who understand and can deal with complex issues and will make an honest effort to find compromises that will solve them. Rants just won't do.
It's decision time. hN