The Budget Battle’s Missing Links

Paul Ryan fired an opening salvo in the budget battle last week – but will anyone be there to back him up?

Against the backdrop of a federal budget dispute, the predictable refrain has started: Ryan’s proposal to slash federal spending is “cruel” and “unfair.”  Groups like Americans for Prosperity and Crossroads GPS will provide some support by reinforcing the dire debt situation and the need to take action.

That line of response is necessary and true – but misses a major point.  It buries the best line in Ryan’s excellent explanatory video – and the best line that any Republican has had in about 30 years:

Washington has not been telling you the truth.

For the last 80 years (give or take) politicians have been running for (and winning) office based on the idea that they’d take care of you.  Washington, they explained, could feed the hungry, enrich the poor, employ the jobless, and most recently heal the sick.

What we’ve found out is that government sucks at all those things.  It’s not a matter of intention but a matter of aptitude.  Despite Washington’s promises – made, incidentally, by both parties and even Ryan himself – are still poor people, there are still elderly who don’t have enough money for retirement, there are still sick people who can’t pay for health care, there are still parents who can’t afford to feed their children.

It didn’t work, and it doesn’t work.  “Washington has not been telling you the truth.”

So who is being cruel?  Is it Ryan for cutting federal programs and reining in federal spending?  Or, are the advocates for the status quo – those who would ignore the spending crisis because paying attention to it is “cruel” – selling the public a vision of government doomed to fail when they need it most?

The safety net is fraying.  Business as usual will make it sag heavier until the ropes give way.  The GOP plan will help.  Regardless of its implications on the debate over the proper size of government, Ryan’s plan is the humane and just thing to do.

That important message isn’t the only thing that’s missing.  So far, I have not seen the important, grassroots organizing that has to be done to turn a good idea into a movement.  What about the internet?  What about the people searching “Ryan Budget” on Google right now who should be seeing sites that tell them, “Look, we need to do a better, more responsible job of taking care of people”?  What about the folks who could be organizing college campuses and calling for a better, more efficient government so that they can retire in 50 or 60 years?  What about building a movement – or, more accurately, mobilizing the tea party movement that already exists to take effective action in support of this new vision for America.

Voters don’t want or need platitudes about spending or missives about the size of government.  They want and need a simple vision to organize around, a vision for a better America that we can participate in – and a way to share a common victory.

There are questions being posed that have to be answered.Can our nation opt to depend on the power of the individual over the power of government?  Can we be more imaginative in our solutions to social problems than relying on the lazy crutch of government programs?  Can we do better for the people who need it most?

Someone needs to make sure that these questions are answered.  And the answer cannot come from television or radio ads, by celebrity spokespersons or politicians.  As with any movement, citizen activists are the only ones capable of responding to these questions, perhaps with a  positive, uplifting, appropriate (albeit plagiarized) answer: “Yes We Can.”

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