Paul Greenberg

Fiscal trends aren't just fiscal in their effect. They have social, political and moral consequences. Essential programs -- from defense to Social Security and Medicare and everything in between -- grow unsustainable. Passing on vast debt to future generations isn't just irresponsible but immoral. Wasn't there a time when the purpose of government in America was to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" -- but who now mentions posterity, or considers the size of the burden we're saddling it with?

Instead, we're supposed to settle for things as they are and are becoming, to act as if there's really nothing to be done but to stay the disastrous course. That's not Paul Ryan's way, never has been. Which is why he's been a constant affront all these years to those politicians who would rather drift than reverse course. As he put it aboard the Wisconsin when he made his first appearance as his party's vice-presidential nominee to be:

"No one disputes President Obama inherited a difficult situation. And, in his first two years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better. In fact, we find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt and despair. This is the worst economic recovery in 70 years. Unemployment has been above 8 percent for more than three years, the longest run since the Great Depression....

"Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure. President Obama, and too many like him in Washington, have refused to make difficult decisions because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation. We might have been able to get away with that before, but not now. We're in a different, and dangerous, moment. We're running out of time. ... I hear some people say that this is just the New Normal. High unemployment, declining incomes and crushing debt is not a new normal. It's the result of misguided policies."

Anyone can sense how this administration has failed and is now only flailing, how it is substituting the politics of resentment for the politics of ideas, personal attacks for civil discourse. Hope and Change gave way some time ago to fear and inertia.

But some of us still believe in the American Dream, and we don't believe that America was built by some vague collectivity -- rather than individuals with their own individual ideas, talents, dedication, successes and, yes, failures.

For whatever America is now or will be in the future, whatever it has meant or will mean, we built it, not some blank collection of Julias, that cartoon figure the Obama campaign has chosen to represent the American people. Much like Julia, we are to be assured of security from the cradle to the grave, and guaranteed a life unmarked by struggle, protected at every stage of a cushioned existence from the dangers and terrors of freedom.

The message of Julia's story is clear enough: Who would want to subject this poor girl to the rigors of life in the wilderness, where there's no guarantee of safety, where wild beasts prowl and she might have to find her own way, cross deserts and climb mountains, and, worst of all, make her own decisions? Better to stick with the fleshpots of Egypt, and know she'll always be taken care of. Why take risks? Better to accept what is, and drift.

Paul Ryan says different, thinks different. He understands that the safety net so long and arduously built by previous generations is now endangered not by some direct, frontal assault but by the slow creep of our own dependence on government for all the answers. We grow passive in the warm embrace of bureaucracy, with more of the same ahead. This has been going on for years now. Do you like the results? They're certainly plain to see. Or have you had enough?

This election year the American people have been given a choice, not one more echo of a failed policy. Paul Ryan made his choice years ago. The American people will make its Tuesday, November 6.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.