some things a candidate could say …

1. “The Bush Administration is planning to spend $53.1 billion over the next six years to defend the United States from a missile fired from another continent. No hostile country has such a missile, and if they did, they wouldn’t fire it, because we would utterly destroy them in a counter-strike. There’s only one foreign country whose behavior will change if we mount an effective missile defense: China. The Chinese will build more ballistic missiles so that they can overwhelm our limited defenses, thereby preserving what they consider their nuclear deterrent. If China builds more ballistic missiles, then its rival India may follow suit. If India expands its arsenal, Pakistan will certainly try to match it. And the last thing we need is to spend $53.1 billion on a program that encourages Pakistan to build more nukes.

“Instead, I propose to redirect 100% of that money to protect us against a real and horrifying threat: small nuclear weapons that are smuggled into the US, rigged with timers, and set to explode in the heart of our cities. With $53.1 billion, we could actually inspect the freight that arrives on our shores.”

2. “The American people owe 7 trillion dollars in national debt–that’s $25,000 dollars per head–and we must pay that back with interest. The government has run up this debt, but now it’s not the government’s problem–it’s our problem. To make matters worse, our population is aging, which means that a smaller number of working people will have to shoulder that debt while more people draw retirement benefits.

“I would very much like to do three things: hold down taxes, provide everyone with access to medical care, and pay down the debt. However, these three things simply don’t add up. To govern is to choose, and I am ready to make tough choices–unlike the President, who has simply borrowed and spent and left the mess for others to clean up. I will reverse all the Bush tax cuts and pay down the federal debt, so that our fiscal house is in order and we can turn, several years from now, to universal health care.”

3. “Our tax system is unbelievably complicated, and almost all of the complexity benefits special interests who have manipulated the law and IRS regulations and who pay expert advisors to find loopholes. If you’re an average family that pays most of your taxes for Social Security and Medicare and uses the 1040EZ for your income taxes, you get no special breaks. In 1986, under a Republican president, the tax code was simplified somewhat, but complexity crept back in once the lobbyists and politicians got to work. We need to end the unfairness once and for all by creating a single tax form for everyone that’s no bigger than a postcard.”

4. “On September 11, Americans wanted more than anything else to pitch in, to serve their country. The President spoke of a ‘nation awakened to service and citizenship and compassion’; he called for everyone to ‘become a September 11th volunteer, by making a commitment to service in our communities.’ Many do serve, especially in the military and as firefighters, police officers, and other ‘first responders.’ However, we have found very little for the rest of the population to do. Helping a kid to read is very important, but it isn’t a response to terror. We need to tap Americans’ skills, passions, and ideas to defeat our current enemies. Instead, the one federal program that supports sustained national service at home, Americorps, was brutally cut in 2003.

“There are many ways that people can serve, like collecting community health data, teaching and learning strategic languages, creating software that aids democratic movements overseas, and corresponding with people in troubled countries. I will make it a top priority of my administration to tap the expertise and energy of the whole American people to make us stronger at home and abroad.”

5. “The President is very proud of No Child Left Behind, his big education bill. In fact, it was a grand bargain. Conservatives and many moderate Democrats got the accountability measures that they had been demanding for years, pressuring schools to demand higher test scores. Educators and state and local governments got a promise of more funding for schools. The act authorized $18.1 billion per year: not enough, in my opinion. But real spending has been closer to $13 billion. The result is a vast unfunded mandate: schools, teachers, and students face new demands but have no new resources. I will fully fund No Child Left Behind and keep the federal promise to children.”