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Published: Monday, 11/5/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

COMMENTARY

Daydreams about this presidential election, and the next

BY THOMAS WALTON
BLADE COLUMNIST

This presidential election, like none before it in recent memory, is underscoring the deep division in American politics and paralysis of leadership by both parties. Tomorrow, we drag ourselves to the finish line suffering from fatigue — we’re sick of the shouting and the television commercials.

How many hungry people might have been fed, how much closer might we be to a cure for breast cancer, if the money spent by President Obama and Mitt Romney in this campaign — more than $1.4 billion just through September, according to the New York Times — had been invested in something more beneficial to mankind?

That’s bad enough, but do you want to know what I’m really sick of? The notion that if the other side thought of a good idea, it’s a bad idea.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear President Obama acknowledge that while he differs fundamentally from his opponent, there are elements of Mr. Romney’s concepts he can embrace?

Is it too much to ask of Mr. Romney to concede that the President has done some good things that he can support as a member of the loyal opposition?

The answer to both questions is yes. Yes, it would be refreshing, and yes, it is too much to ask.

The country is headed toward what commentators are calling a fiscal cliff in January unless there is a resolution to mandated spending cuts and tax increases. Yet the White House and Congress have put the mess on hold while they scream in each other’s ears — and ours.

Americans have to hope that once the election is over, the yelling can subside and we can find a way to pull back from the brink. We have other serious problems, and they are long-term.

A recent Associated Press analysis provided the framework for fixing Social Security, with a variety of available options that either cut benefits or raise taxes. Neither concept appeals to the masses, but the prospect that Social Security’s surplus will be gone by 2033 shouldn’t warm the hearts of future retirees either.

Collecting the Social Security tax on all annual wages, not just the first $110,100, is one option. It would wipe out nearly three-fourths of the fund’s shortfall. A gradual rise in the retirement age to 69 by 2039 and 70 by 2063 would eliminate more than a third of the fund’s deficit.

Similarly, with the Baby Boomers’ retirement wave under way, Medicare cannot sustain itself indefinitely. Who will be the president who finally tells the American people what they don’t want to hear?

Vague talk about job creation doesn’t cut it. Every presidential candidate says the economy will flourish and jobs will abound under his leadership. But the economy is an elusive beast that does its own thing, helping one president thrive (Bill Clinton) and harming another (Mr. Obama).

At some point, the White House needs to proclaim its willingness to be unpopular when it comes to entitlements. It won’t be easy. Working Americans will urge a cut in benefits for recipients. Retired Americans will push to increase taxes on those who are working.

Entitlements have long been the “third rail” of politics. Touch the third rail at your peril. But somebody had better summon the courage, and Congress should be ready to do its part. Checks and balances should not mean barriers and obstructions.

Here’s another thought. Mr. Obama is seeking a second term, so the notion doesn’t apply to him. But if Mr. Romney wins, he should say to the American people that he will not run for a second term if his objectives are not achieved. If Mr. Romney were to fail to accomplish his goals, he would be expected to honor his commitment.

The problem, of course, is that figures can lie and liars can figure. A president can claim success even if the evidence suggests otherwise. Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

How about we really get radical here? Though it would require moving heaven and earth — in other words, amending the Constitution, and lots of luck with that — let’s consider throwing out the limitation of two four-year terms and instead restrict our president to one six-year term.

The incumbent’s first-term focus would no longer be on winning re-election. He or she could pursue an agenda of reform, without worrying which special interest groups are going to be upset.

Because there would be no second term, there would be no four-year lame duck. The president could think more about a legacy than the next election.

Is all this hopelessly naive? Of course it is, silly.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com



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