Mona Charen
There is a brand of Republican who looks at President Obama's vulnerability on the economy and says "go for it." They argue that the overriding issue of the campaign should be jobs -- and that everything else should be a distant second.

There is another kind of Republican who sees the 2012 election as a tipping point for the nation -- a do or die moment when we will either pull back from the precipice of debt and national decline or fall off the edge. This second brand of Republican is hoping that a candidate will emerge who can lay before the American people the nature of the challenge we face in a direct and forthright way. If a campaign is run and won on the need to reform our obese government, the new president will have a mandate to take the necessary steps, once in office.

After Wednesday's Republican debate, it seems that Romney represents the first group, and Perry stands for the second.

Members of the first camp -- and it includes lots of smart people like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and Mike Murphy -- may agree that defeating Obama is critical, but they argue that it's tactically stupid to mention the looming bankruptcy of "popular" federal programs like Social Security and Medicare. At Wednesday's Republican debate, Mitt Romney, responding to Rick Perry's earlier description of Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme," planted a flag and declared: "Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security...I will make sure that we keep the program, and we make it financially secure. We save Social Security. And under no circumstances would I ever say by any measure it's a failure. It is working for millions of Americans, and I'll keep it working for millions of Americans. And we've got to do that as a party."

Rubbish. How can you deny that a bankrupt government program is a failure? As for whether it's a Ponzi scheme, well, when the program was adopted, there were 17 workers for every retiree, and the average life expectancy was 58 for men and 62 for women. By 2035, there will be an estimated 2.1 workers for every retiree, and life expectancy -- even if it remains at 2011 levels (male 75, female 80) -- will still be about 18 years longer. What Perry said was the simple truth -- there will be no funds for 25 year-olds to draw upon when they reach retirement age.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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