The Debate Dodge

Presidential candidates let us off easy, and we know it.



Unscathed. And pandered to. That's how I felt as one of "the American people" after watching three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate.


Nobody told me or my Baby Boomer generation cohorts to expect less in the way of Social Security benefits and Medicare no matter which candidate wins the election next month. Nobody asked us to work longer, delay our eligibility, or pay more taxes to compensate for our expected longer life span and the shortfall in funding.

Nobody asked American high school and college graduates to do a mandatory two years of national service in either the military or a civilian program, even though applications for the Peace Corps and Teach For America are up, due to a combination of idealism and pragmatism, when the jobs picture is bleak.

Nobody said clearly and unequivocally that in order to bring spending in line with revenues "the American people," all of them, will have to expect less from government.

Instead, they blamed the rich 1 percent or the doctors or the insurance companies or loopholes or inefficiency or the takers or the lack of competition and then cynically suggested that the problem can be cured without general sacrifice by the American people. All of us.

Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney told us what we know — that the choice is reduced services and benefits or higher taxes. Or probably both. In a close race, they fear that they might lose "the undecideds" by telling it straight.

We heard all those personal anecdotes about running into an ordinary, hard-working American in a factory, in a small town cafe, or on a college campus. But we did not hear a single one about a Baby Boomer who has had it pretty good and has an eye on a place in Florida or the Ozarks but is going to have to wait one more year for retirement benefits, pay more for them, and maybe get by with less.

Nobody wants a political leader who's a scold, but is it so hard to say what most of us know full well already — that we have been spoiled by big houses, big cars, cheap gas, easy mortgages, credit cards, must-have gadgets, and budgets built on debt that someone is going to have to pay?

Politicians assume we want easy answers. Sacrifice is a loser. All those carefully crafted questions from the debate moderators and the undecided voters in the audience and not one candidate who said, "American people, hear this. Expect less or pay more. As you probably already know, the gravy train has come to the end of the line."

In Memphis and Shelby County, expansion of pre-kindergarten classes might not happen with a half-cent sales tax increase, but it certainly won't happen without it. And pre-K won't be "universal" without a firm commitment from the school board and supporters willing to pay for it if the half-cent sales tax increase falls short or gets spent somewhere else.

Closing 21 schools, as the Transition Planning Commission recommended, might not balance the unified school system's budget, but there is no way the budget can be balanced without closing schools.

Want suburban school districts? Prepare to pay for them with property tax increases as well as a sales tax increase.

Want more charter schools? One school's gain is another's loss, so face the consequences of reduced enrollment in already half-empty traditional schools and don't expect "community centers" to magically fill them at no cost.

In our daily lives, we know that goods and services cost more and that free is not really free. That holiday package with "free shipping" is going to cost more. That daily newspaper delivered to your home won't be around much longer, unless more readers pay $156 a year instead of poaching it off the internet. The no-money-down sofa comes with an installment plan. That free cell phone or tablet comes with a service plan and a contract.

So here's to politicians and leaders who tell us there are no easy answers but only hard choices, that the other side is right about some things, that all must sacrifice something, and that anyone who says otherwise is not telling the truth.

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