By picking Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has fundamentally changed the dynamics of this election. What was shaping up as a referendum on President Obama has been transformed into a much bigger race about our challenges and our future. Not since the 1980 election have the differences between the candidates been so strong. That's good for America, because our challenges are great.
Left unaddressed, the federal government's cascading debt and deficit will dramatically alter what it means to be an American. Unresolved, the interest payment on the debt alone will be unsustainable by the end of the decade, sooner if interest rates return to historical norms. No government program, agency or entitlement -- including defense, Social Security and Medicare -- will be spared the budget knife when the world learns the U.S. cannot make its interest payments. The result will be what Erskine Bowles has described as "the most predictable economic crisis in history." Capital markets will be rocked, retirement savings in 401 (k) accounts will be decimated, and the U.S. dollar will be further weakened as world governments refuse to hold it as their reserve currency.
Mr. Ryan recognizes this crisis and has the courage to put forth real, albeit sometimes unpopular, solutions. Putting forth plans is what leaders do. For his part, Mr. Obama pledged to cut the debt in half in his first term but instead presided over a 50 percent increase in the debt, from $10.6 trillion to just shy of $16 trillion. Instead of addressing the crisis, the president and congressional Democrats enacted two of the most far-reaching regulatory regimes, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Both laws have saddled American businesses with uncertainly, hampered job creation and exacerbated deficits and debt by reducing the number of taxpayers.
This fall, Americans will have a clear choice. Our country can suffer more of the same under the Obama-Biden regime, which has become an inexorable march toward a Western European-style socialist government and an America of higher taxes, higher unemployment and a significantly expanded welfare state. Or Americans can choose Romney-Ryan, the team offering an honest assessment of the challenges we face and solutions to put America back on track. By reforming entitlements for those of us under age 55, capping federal spending, eliminating ill-conceived tax breaks and expenditures, and repealing the myriad new regulations promulgated in the past three years, they can ensure that our best days could still be ahead of us. Competent and reform-minded leadership will spur private-sector investment, job creation and the entrepreneurial spirit. Without a doubt, by speaking the truth and proposing real solutions, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan risk losing the election, but if they win, they will have gained a mandate to enact the reforms necessary to ensure our children inherit an America as great as the one we did.
No election in modern times holds more significance. On Nov. 6, Americans will make a fundamental choice, and either way, we will get the government we deserve.
George LeMieux, a Republican, is a former U.S. senator from Florida.