I just got an e-mail from the Romney-Ryan campaign. The headline? "RYAN: WE WILL NOT DUCK THE TOUGH ISSUES. WE WILL LEAD." The caps lock was on in the original, by the way.
Of all the criticisms of the Obama administration, this is the one I find most baffling. Before even being sworn in, they lobbied Congress to release the second tranche of the (hideously unpopular) TARP bailout. They took on health-care reform and paid for it with new taxes and cuts to Medicare. They tried to pass a cap-and-trade bill. They proposed another stimulus — the American Jobs Act — long after "stimulus" had become a dirty word. They've repeatedly proposed raising taxes on the wealthy. They almost struck a deficit-reduction deal with John Boehner — twice. You might hate each and every one of these policy proposals. But they're certainly efforts to take on the tough issues, often at great political cost.
This is where I break from the media consensus on the 2012 election: It may not be fun, or friendly, or inspiring, or joyful, but both sides are taking on the tough issues. Paul Ryan really does have plans to remake Medicare, Medicaid and, in a vaguer way, the tax code. Mitt Romney really does mostly agree with those plans. Obama really does have a health-reform plan he's trying to protect and build on, as well as a plan to raise taxes on wealthier Americans and pass a large shot of secondary stimulus.
Yes, there's some ducking going on. If you've been listening to Romney and Ryan lately, you're hearing a lot more about what they wouldn't do to Medicare than what they would do to it. If you've read their policy proposals, you know more about where they want to go than how they intend to get there. And if you're paying attention to the Democrats, you're hearing a lot more about what Romney and Ryan may want to do than what they want to do.
But there's really a whole lot of taking on tough issues happening in this election. Much more than there was in 2008, or in 2004, or in 2000, or in 1996. And that's in part because there's been a whole lot of taking on tough issues during Obama's first term. You may or may not like the way those issues got resolved, but the reason the policy stakes in this election are so high is because first the financial crisis and then the Obama administration raised them.