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A Referendum on Us

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Watch the Obama "progressives'" glee and mirth spreading across their countenances as they chunk mud balls at Mitt Romney's running mate-designate, Paul Ryan.


That Ryan -- he's "a certifiable right-wing ideologue," says Obama strategist David Axelrod. ("Certifiable," don't cha know, means "legally insane.") From Robert Shrum, a Democratic strategist: "(H)is mind is rooted in Ayn Rand's idolatry of selfishness." He's "Robin Hood in deep dark reverse," according to Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the left-wing magazine, The Nation. That's besides being, in the mind of Congressman Steve Israel, the Democrat charged with retaking the House, "a nightmare for seniors who have earned their Medicare benefits."

Ah. There we get down to brass tacks. The Obama campaign sees Romney's selection of Ryan as meaning, among other things, the determination to destroy "Medicare as we know it."

Lordy, I could almost hope so, says a Medicare recipient -- the one pounding out these words. "Medicare as we know it" -- strapped with unsustainable obligations to people deceived by their own government -- needs to go. Obama himself calls the present program "unsustainable."

My fellow oldsters, the money Congress promised us for health care, along with those who limp into senescence just behind us, ain't there, and it ain't a goin' to be there. Not with $700 billion of Medicare money going into Obamacare and the government's future plan to ration what we do get on the say-so of an unelected panel of experts. Tell me (SET ITAL) that's (END ITAL) " Medicare" as we know it!


Ryan, joined by former Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin and Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden - both Democrats, be it duly noted -- has a rescue plan. The plan leaves Medicare benefits untouched for Americans 55 years old and up, who could either participate in the traditional government-run program or receive a government subsidy for investment in a private plan. That must be the "nightmare" of which Congressman Israel speaks: doing something sensible to fend off a coming calamity -- or shaping messier mud balls.

There will be more, infinitely more, to say during the campaign. One has the sinking feeling that no other topic will bulk so large, on account of the stakes; and yes, on account of the juvenility of people such as Shrum and Axelrod, who are so focused on winning an election that they can't see the point of winning through intelligence.

We hear often enough that the parties view the election as a referendum on something or other -- Obamacare, Wall Street, George W. Bush, hope and change.

I have a theory. It is that the election will be a referendum on us, the American people: Not so much on the politicians themselves -- who in a large sense are our creatures -- as on our capacity for sound and discerning judgment, for wise and mature reflection. Can we ask sober questions and listen soberly to sober answers concerning Medicare and Social Security and the debt and the deficit? Or will jeering and mud throwing prove the real attractions -- the insults, the lies, the evasions?


The love of an insult or just a good lie goes far back in human experience -- another way of saying that demagogues (the word is Greek -- "stirrers up of the people") perpetually walk among us. There was Alcibiades once and Antony; now there's Congressman Steve Israel, to name just one of the dimmer lights in a party not well disposed to democratic illumination.

"Democratic." Note the word. Shorn of its capital letter, it means "of the people," the people as their own governors, blessed or cursed by their own perceptions of the right way. Alexis de Tocqueville, "Democracy in America," saw the danger nearly 200 years ago: A democratic nation offers "singular facilities for the establishment of despotism." Once it "stupefies" the people, "each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

The shepherds, lacking our democratic assent, can do zilch. That's one election-year message to remember, and here's another, directed to the shepherds: We sheep aren't half as dumb or indifferent as we sometimes look.

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