Voters deserve convention substance as part of the script.
Long gone are the days when brokered or broken national political conventions created riveting drama. Now, both parties put on prime-time infomercials, filled with bunting, balloons and rising political stars. One goal of the GOP version, which kicks off Monday in Tampa, will be to humanize the sometimes robotic Mitt Romney with the help of a stage resembling a living room.
Whether voters will spend time with the convention in their own living rooms watching remains to be seen. But they should. Sure, there's the political hoopla that's expected, even celebrated, as part of every quadrennial celebration of our ongoing experiment in representative democracy. But more important, viewers should learn more about how a GOP administration would change the country's course.
With that in mind, here's what we hope to hear from the GOP:
We agree with Romney and running mate Paul Ryan that the current fiscal path is unsustainable. This is not the time to repetitively emphasize the point, but instead to point out where there is room for compromise on new and sustainable solutions. If the only strategy put forth in Tampa is complete control of the executive and legislative branches, voters should know that, because it could very well mean four more unaffordable years of gridlock.
Due in part to Democratic attacks, too much of the campaign to date has centered on the ephemera of Bain Capital and "Atlas Shrugged," the Ayn Rand novel that's a lodestone for Ryan and other key conservatives. Far too little has been said by either party about the middle class and the future of entitlement programs that many Americans depend on.
How much of the frayed social safety net will be retained? What can be done to ensure the viability of Medicare and Social Security? Ryan has served as a symbol of Romney's seriousness about fiscal issues. Now it's time to move beyond symbolism. Voters deserve more details from the man at the top of the ticket.
The same can be said about health care. It's not enough to excoriate the Affordable Care Act as creeping socialism. "Repeal and replace," the GOP says (especially, of late, "repeal"). But replace with what -- beyond gauzy mentions of tort reform and free markets?
While most voters are concerned with pocketbook issues, Romney should at least be as progressive on immigration reform as was President George W. Bush.
Social issues also cannot be ignored. As evidenced by the response to the absurd comments by Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri's GOP Senate candidate, as well as the divisive marriage amendment issue in Minnesota, reproductive and marriage rights matter. On reproductive rights, the GOP platform doesn't square with Romney's rhetoric. Clarification is essential.
Until now, the Romney-Ryan ticket has given foreign policy short shrift. What has been said about American exceptionalism and about not cutting the defense budget and about President Obama projecting weakness all suggests vigorous investment in national defense and potentially more military commitments in unsustainable wars.
That approach would directly undercut the fiscal discipline both candidates espouse. America's fiscal situation is a national-security issue in its own right, and no plan that defends current levels of military spending without increased tax revenue represents a serious approach to balancing the budget.
Neither party's convention is expected to produce suspense. But there's room in both shows for more than theatrics. If the parties want voters to pay attention, they should include substance along with the stagecraft.
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