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At Values and Capitalism , Josh Good offers Paul Ryan a great line; I hope he takes it. Josh notes that Ryan’s Medicare plan exempts today’s seniors from the impact of reforms. So when the 69-year-old Biden attacks the 42-year-old Ryan over Medicare in the VP debate, Ryan can tell him: “I’m not talking about you, Joe. I’m talking about me.” If it were me, I’d put it this way: “We’re going to take care of you, Joe, but we’re also going to save the system so it’s there for me, too.”

The whole post is worth reading. Josh highlights the theme of generosity in Ann Romney’s speech:

[Mitt’s decision to] work harder and press on . . . [has] given us the deep satisfaction of being able to help others in ways that we could never have imagined. Mitt doesn’t like to talk about how he has helped others because he sees it as a privilege, not a political talking point.

And we’re no different than the millions of Americans who quietly help their neighbors, their churches and their communities . . . They don’t do it so that others will think more of them. They do it because there is no greater joy. “Give and it shall be given unto you.” . . .

This is the genius of America: dreams fulfilled help others launch new dreams.

Josh comments: “This is a big, important point—one that stands at the center of this year’s election.” He’s right. Josh writes at length about the Romneys’ philanthropy, but there’s an even bigger issue in play here.

What does America believe about its free enterprise system? Do we believe the function of free enterprise is to make us rich so we can gratify our selfish desires? Or do we believe the function of free enterprise is moral—that it allows us to become the kind of people who have the deep satisfaction of earning our own success by serving others and making the world a better place for everyone? “Dreams fulfilled help othres launch new dreams” happens not just through philanthropy but throughout the economy. Any successful auto garage or convenience store or beauty shop helps dozens or hundreds of people live their dreams. A medium-sized factory or software developer creates dreams for many thousands.

Both versions—the materialistic and the moral—are ideologically available on both the left and the right. And in fact the candidates on both tickets have oscillated back and forth between the two versions. After his notorious “you didn’t build that” rant, the president tried to claw back by saying: “America says we will give you opportunity, but you’ve got to earn your success.” And while Ann Romney struck the generosity note at the GOP convention, you can also fire up YouTube and watch videos of Paul Ryan extoling Ayn Rand. (Personally, my expectation is that Romney/Ryan would stick to the moral version a lot more faithfully than Obama/Biden have.)

There’s good news and bad news in this. The good news is that this means the aspiration to free enterprise as a moral system is not necessarily confined to the ghetto of one party. If it were, there’d be no hope for saving it in the long run. The bad news is that this means we must abandon any expectations that the election result, however it goes, can secure for us the kind of moral renewal we need. Both parties partake of the rhetoric of enterprise as making dreams for people, but neither party can be expected to remain fully loyal to it.

In the end, the politicians will do what the voters reward. As always, our future is in our hands, not theirs.

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