Instead of having a raging ideological debate this election year about the role of government in American life, we could just as easily be moving on with our lives in an improving economy. And no one would have to make what to any reasonable person amounts to a devastating compromise in order for that to occur.
Just take the single issue of reform of Social Security and Medicare to ensure those programs continue indefinitely. There are obvious, often-suggested areas where billions could be saved and costs lowered with no one having to feel a minute of economic pain.
Yet, anti-government zealots -- which may include Mitt Romney's vice presidential choice Rep. Paul Ryan (we'll have to see if his rigid views "evolve," as they say, toward something more reality-based) -- have opposed compromise at every turn.
On the opposite side, those who view the government as a source of cozy employment and a means to gain power by promising everything while taxing for only a small percentage of the cost, continue to fuel the rage of those who want to slash budgets, as well as rile moderates hoping for more efficient government.
Both sides, it should be noted, have their radicals -- pro and anti big government -- and they both assuredly have pols who promise the world but never vote for the taxes to pay for said world.
Getting back to Social Security, Republicans should acknowledge that the Bush-era tax cuts did not produce the promised economic boom and even greater tax revenue, but they did help fuel financial market speculation that led to the Great Recession.
Those tax cuts, primarily for the wealthy -- along with two underfunded wars -- obliterated the Clinton-era budget surpluses and launched the country on the road to massive long-term debt. In fairness, therefore, they can't now rail about social programs being in poor financial shape as the baby boom retires, because they pushed those programs down that slippery slope.
On the other side, Democrats went along with those absurd and unnecessary tax cuts and are partly responsible. In addition, they have yet to offer a realistic plan for bailing out Social Security, Medicare and other programs that addresses the urgent need for both more tax revenue and cost savings.
It would take only a modicum of political courage for both sides to do something like a bipartisan deficit reduction commission has suggested: Reduce some Social Security benefits for upper income retirees, raise or eliminate the income cutoff line for the tax for both programs and slightly raise the age for full retirement benefits. Other modest proposals would alter the cost of living provision slightly for those with higher incomes and slightly reduce the benefits for early retirement at 62.
Most of our current fiscal problems, in fact, would be largely solved if such compromises were effected. But they aren't possible with radical theorists and/or gutless office-holders in charge in Washington and beyond. So that's the sad truth.