YUVAL LEVIN, founding editor of National Affairs, is quickly emerging as one of America's most important public intellectuals. Here are snips from a pre-election essay on what was at stake in the election:
That was the pull quote from Paul Ryan's address of October 25 at Cleveland State University, perhaps the finest speech by any candidate in this campaign.
If you're genuinely undecided about how to vote -- and even if you're not -- you will do yourself a favor by listening.
I am struck that while the president talks about rich people, Romney and Ryan speak about poor people. And while the president delivers snippy one-liners about aircraft carriers and submarines, Romney and Ryan speak about peace.
Here are a few snips from the Ryan speech:
We are here . . . on behalf of the idea that no matter who your parents are, no matter where you come from, you should have the opportunity in America to rise, to escape from poverty, and to achieve whatever your God-given talents and hard work enable you to achieve.
. . . .
With a few exceptions, government's approach has been to spend lots of money on centralized, bureaucratic, top-down anti-poverty programs. The mindset behind this approach is that a nation should measure compassion by the size of the federal government and how much it spends. The problem is, starting in the 1960s, this top-down approach created and perpetuated a debilitating culture of dependency, wrecking families and communities.
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In this war on poverty, poverty is winning. We deserve better. We deserve a clear choice for a brighter future. So what is the alternative approach to Mitt Romney and I are offering?
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The short of it is that there has to be a balance -- allowing government to act for the common good, while leaving private groups free to do they work that only they can do. There's a vast middle ground between the government and the individual. Our families and our neighborhoods, the groups we join and our places of worship. This is where we live our lives. They shape our character, give our lives direction and help make us a self-governing people.
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So what is government's duty when it comes to the institutions of civil society? Basically, it is to secure their rights, respect their purposes, and preserve their freedom.
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But it's not just the abuses of government that undermine civil society: It's also the excesses of government. Look at the road we're on, with trillion-dollar deficits every year. Debt on this scale is destructive in so many ways, and one of them is that it crowds out civil society by drawing resources away from private giving.
Even worse is the prospect of a debt crisis, which will come unless we do something very soon. When government's own finances collapse, society's most vulnerable are the first victims, as we are seeing right now in the troubled welfare states of Europe. . . .
. . . .
Wherever we are in life, whether we are rich or poor, black, brown, or white, Americans by chance or by choice, we are one nation, rising or falling together. That is the promise of America, and we can make it real in the lives of the many who feel left out. To all of those Americans, I ask you to support our campaign, because our cause is yours, and yours is ours, and together we can achieve great things.
. . . today it must be done. So let's perform our usual Saturday ablutions -- giving to charity, contributing to Romney -- then hear a long-overdue disquisition by Unca D, his own self, on one of America's most-important cultural treasures: . . .
THIS VIRTUOUS [American] culture -- a highly cohesive, self-confident culture defined by strong families, faith in God, untiring industriousness and an almost instinctive law-abidingness -- is increasingly endangered today, and it is that danger than is the focus of Coming Apart. . . .
A generation ago Spain was just coming out of the Francoist era, a strongly Catholic country with among the highest birth rates in Europe, with the average woman producing almost four children in 1960 and nearly three as late as 1975-1976. There was, [notes Alejandro Macarron Larumbe, a Madrid-based management consult and author], "no divorce, no contraception allowed." By the 1980s many things changed much for the better, as young Spaniards became educated, economic opportunities opened for women expanded and political liberty became entrenched.
Yet modernization exacted its social cost. The institution of the family, once dominant in Spain, lost its primacy. "Priorities for most your and middle-aged women (and men) are career, building wealth, buying a house, having fun, traveling, not incurring the burden of many children" observes Macarron. Many, like their northern European counterparts, dismissed marriage altogether; although the population is higher than it was in 1975, the number of marriages has declined from 270,000 to 170,000 annually.
Now Spain, like much of the EU, faces the demographic consequences. The results have been transformative. In a half century Spain's fertility rate has fallen more than 50% to 1.4 children per female, one of the lowest not only in Europe, but also the world and well below the 2.1 rate necessary simply to replace the current population. . . .
Essentially, Spain and other Mediterranean countries bought into northern Europe's liberal values and low birthrates, but did so without the economic wherewithal to pay for it. You can afford a Nordic welfare state, albeit increasingly precariously, if your companies and labor force are highly skilled or productive. But Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal lack that kind of productive industry; much of the growth stemmed from real estate and tourism. Infrastructure development was underwritten by the EU, and the country has become increasingly dependent on foreign investors. . . .
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The decline in population and mounting out-migration of young people means Spain will experience ever-higher proportions of retired people relative to those working. This "dependency rate" . . . will grow by 57% by 2021: there will be six people either retired or in school for every person working.
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Without a major shift in policies that favor families in housing or tax policies, and an unexpected resurgence of interest in marriage and children, Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean face prospects of an immediate decline every bit as profound as that experienced in the 17th and 18th century when these great nations lost their status as global powers and instead devolved into quaint locales for vacationers, romantic poets and history buffs.
Long before that happens, today's Mediterranean folly could drive the rest of Europe, and maybe even the world, into yet another catastrophic recession.
(Joel Kotkin, "What's Really Behind Europe's Decline? It's The Birth Rates, Stupid," forbes. com, May 30, 2012)