After everything else is forgotten, I'll remember this from last week's Republican presidential candidates debate: The election should be about ideas, not the minutiae that media and voters typically gorge themselves on.
Newt Gingrich hit the bulls-eye when he said it. And in the big picture, it doesn't matter that Gingrich sidestepped a tough question about the legitimacy of his campaign from Fox News host Chris Wallace or that he has little shot of winning.
The older our nation gets, the more juvenile it becomes. We have become infatuated with -- and sidetracked by -- the trivial: President Obama's birth certificate, John Boehner's tan, politicians' sex lives, the feigned indignation served up daily by the left and the right.
Instead of strategizing how to get the economy moving while shedding debt, our leaders -- including most of the presidential candidates -- adhere to talking points that have little or no relevance to our unique situation.
If solving the economic problem were as easy as approving a federal stimulus or cutting taxes, the Great Recession would be in the rear-view mirror.
But we're dealing with something more complicated. A mountain of debt -- here and all over the globe -- has caused lenders to restrict credit, which is essential to investment. Cutting debt to free up credit requires spending less. When spending declines, economies shrink and bad news continues.
The Tea Partiers are right when they say we must reduce debt. But they're wrong when they say we don't need another stimulus, as liberals advocate. Liberals, likewise, are wrong when they claim that a recession is the wrong time to worry about debt.
What we need is smart policy. Unfortunately, American voters don't have much passion for any proposal that isn't wrapped in a simple Pick A or Pick B package.
A targeted stimulus could put people back to work and help us regain our competitive edge. This means paying for infrastructure, education and research, and helping entrepreneurs with promising ideas.
The big question: how to stimulate the economy and pay down debt?
It wouldn't be that hard, actually, if Congress and the president put down the talking points and stopped taking orders from big-money donors and Tea Party hostage takers. It would help a lot if Americans, especially Baby Boomers, were willing to sacrifice now to strengthen the country for the future generations.
Entitlement reform is a must. A little tightening on medical care and raising the retirement age for Social Security ought to do it. Put the military on a diet that includes reducing weapons stockpiles, closing bases in Europe and trimming the bloated ranks of generals and admirals. Reform the tax system and close loopholes so that people know with certainty what they owe and corporate profits banked overseas return home. We finally could end the divisive rich man/poor man tax debate with a federal flat tax.
The question is, could any presidential candidate win on this platform? And if he or she did, would Congress sign off on any of this?
Probably not. These days, American politics is where big ideas go to die.