By Ames Tribune
The Republican and Democratic national conventions are over. The balloons and confetti have all been swept up, and life in Tampa, Fla., and Charlotte, N.C., can return to normal, or at least as normal as possible in the home stretch of what promises to be a brutal presidential campaign.
The pundits have done their work, parsing the nuances of everything from the keynote speeches to the expressions on the delegates’ faces. The fact-checkers have picked over the speeches to reveal every exaggeration, misinterpretation, distortion, unfair spin and outright lie they could find. They found plenty, and although the Democrats indulged in their share of fact-bending, it was the Republicans who, in perpetuating the “gutting welfare reform” lie and building their convention theme around a simple error in an Obama speech, showed the lesser regard for truth.
Truth, and a candidate’s respect or lack of respect for it, is important. But even that is not as important as what this 2012 election is really all about. Distilled to its essence, this election is about the role of government in our lives.
President Bill Clinton, who remains the modern master of political speech, said it best on Wednesday night in Charlotte:
“My fellow Americans, all of us in this grand hall and everybody watching at home, when we vote in this election, we’ll be deciding what kind of country we want to live in.”
Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida who spoke the week before at the Republican convention, said it, too: “It’s a choice about what kind of country we want America to be.”
They are both right. We are being asked to make a decision about the function of government, at the federal level certainly but also all the way down the ballot, because if the two conventions showed us nothing else, they showed us the two dominant political parties see the function of government very differently.
On one hand, we have the Republican perspective, articulated decades ago by President Ronald Reagan when he said that rather than being a solution to problems, “the government is the problem.” Twenty-first century Republicans like to quote Reagan when they describe their ideal of a government that taxes less, regulates less — simply does less — in most aspects of American economy and society.
Americans don’t want big government, Republicans say, and they don’t need it. Too much government stifles creativity, innovation, self-reliance and prosperity. Speaker after speaker expressed that belief with conviction in Tampa.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said, “We look to our communities, our faiths, our families for our joy, our support, in good times and bad. It is both how we live our lives and why we live our lives. The strength and power and goodness of America has always been based on the strength and power and goodness of our communities, our families, our faiths.”
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan put it this way: “None of us have to settle for the best this administration offers, a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.”
On the other hand, the Democrats expressed with equal conviction their belief that government can be a force of good in American life, that rather than foster a nation of dependents, government helps create the foundation upon which more of us can prosper.
“We Democrats, we think the country works better . with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that `We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than `You’re on your own.’
“It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth. We know that investments in education and infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase growth. They increase good jobs, and they create new wealth for all the rest of us.”
The Democratic vision costs more than the Republican one, and that’s reflected in the kind of budgets each party writes and the taxation policies each promotes. Republicans would say we can’t afford to pay for the government the Democrats envision. Democrats would say we can’t afford not to.
And that’s the choice. After all the cheers and chants, the rhetoric and image-mongering, after two more months of stump speeches and attack ads, we Americans will have to decide, in the quiet and solitude of the voting booth, what kind of country we want to live in.