We do not know who will win the White House in November. But we do know that American politics has crossed the Rubicon on spending and entitlements, and these issues will at long last complete the journey from a forbidden third rail to a central element of national politics. Even if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan lose this year’s battle to Barack Obama, they will win the war on the challenge of our generation.
Congressman Paul Ryan is best known for his budget, the Ryan Roadmap, which ties together the two sides of our fiscal-crisis coin: First, the major entitlements of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will soon be bankrupt and unable to provide for millions of beneficiaries. And second, our growing $16 trillion debt will result in an unprecedented economic disaster if not balanced and then paid off.
President Barack Obama and his Democrats are replying with the inexcusably-irresponsible argument that overhauling entitlements and balancing the budget are cruel and unnecessary. They cry that this will harm seniors and deprive people of needed benefits, willfully ignoring the reality—with can be proved beyond doubt on a napkin using fifth-grade math skills—that the status quo cannot and will not continue.
Beginning in 1783, national leaders like John Jay corresponded with George Washington—the recently-retired commander-in-chief of the Continental Army—about the need for structural change in American government. They made the case that the Articles of Confederation had failed, and the national governing document must be fundamentally overhauled.
This eventually led to the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. But before reaching that point, as late as 1786, Washington agreed that young America teetered on the edge of an abyss, but that a critical mass of American citizens had not yet reached the same assessment. Things would get worse before they could get better, Washington concluded. Then things got worse with Shay’s Rebellion, and change came.
George Washington intuitively understood that major change in a democratic system must be driven by the people. We will not reform entitlements and balance the budget until they become kitchen-table issues for ordinary citizens, which takes time and visibility. Democrats simply pretend there is no problem. Now Republicans can make these points so central to national discourse that they become unavoidable and undeniable.