The Republican team of
From the election of
With Reagan, the old conservative ethic regained ascendancy, in part due to the excesses and failings of well-intentioned liberal programs. This ethic said government had intruded too much in the economy and had coddled unproductive citizens at the expense of those who worked hard and carried their own weight. Even Democrat
Now, with the political pendulum stuck between the contending philosophies of right and left, the 2012 election offers voters a stark choice between the classic liberalism of the Obama administration and the militant conservatism of the Republican "young guns" in the
The budget plans that Mr. Ryan has put forward as chairman of the
The America Ryan longs for seems more like 1912 than 2012. Certainly, it was a simpler time a century ago. The majority of Americans were white, God-fearing Protestants who lived on farms or in small towns. Only a tiny elite went to college. The rich were very rich while the broad working class earned modest incomes through long days of labor in mines, factories and fields. Women stayed at home. Black Americans were kept in their place. Politicians were in the pockets of the wealthy. Only wild-eyed Socialists dreamed of helping the elderly with government-provided pensions and medical care.
Over the last 100 years, the planks of the Socialist Party platform of 1912 -- items like a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, and precursors to Social Security and Medicare -- became mainstream ideas and pillars of American life. During the liberal era, a huge middle class was created as the American economy became the most vibrant and innovative in the world. The income gap between the rich and everyone else narrowed. A college education became closer to the norm. Most people moved to the cities or suburbs. Women left home and went to work. The U.S. became a more equal, multiracial society.
The core question before voters in this campaign season is which ethic -- conservative or liberal -- will guide our society in this new century. A lot of the folks supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket are shouting that they want to take their country back, but back to what?
Can a 21st century nation thrive with a return to the policies of