The Paul Ryan Pick

Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate offers a golden opportunity for a real debate in the country – but it is not merely about “government,” which is what everyone now expects, but about “community.” I urge them to engage in this debate, starting now.

Both Romney and Ryan trace their beliefs about society back to formative experiences in their personal lives. For Ryan, it was growing up in Janesville, Wisconsin, a town of about 60,000 people, south of Milwaukee. There, various news reports suggest, he learned the values of personal responsibility and community life. There, he absorbed important lessons both about personal freedom and positive interdependence with others.

The same is true for Mitt Romney. In the book, The Real Romney, which I recommend, what becomes clear is Romney’s enduring faith in community – where individuals must take personal responsibility and be interdependent with one another. To that point, in Sunday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat, the op-ed columnist, wrote about the web of community-based services and supports that exist in Salt Lake City, outside of government. He suggested Romney should make this approach more of a centerpiece of his campaign.

Romney and Ryan’s politics and policies assert that in lieu of government we must have strong communities. But what does that really mean nowadays – and what will it take? For instance:

  • How will we deal with the growing diversity in our communities and ensure that we see and hear all people – and not just those with whom we’re most comfortable?
  • What exactly are the candidates calling people to – that is, what is the affirmative message and actions at play here, rather than simply saying we need “less government and more community”?
  • What is the role of compassion in this worldview? Right now, the debate is about cutting government – but where does compassion fit and how might we manifest it? For community without compassion leaves little room for people.
  • What is the challenge to Americans – individuals, non-profit groups, and others – if “community” is truly to play a larger role in our lives? How can we make this happen

No doubt, notions of community have been a thread throughout all presidential campaigns in my lifetime. But it is often raised as a kind of substitute for government without much substance. I believe community is pivotal to moving the country forward, and that it should not simply be pushed aside as some cute notion that no longer bears relevance to our rapidly changing nation. In fact, given such changes, it should play an even larger role in our lives I’d like to hear the candidates’ debate the role of community – for it will help us to understand how they truly see the world, and it will put on the nation’s agenda a topic we all must address, together.