Good analysis from Ross Douthat:
Ryan’s rejoinder was more urgent and more focused: America’s crippling debt was an organizing theme, and there were warnings of “painful austerity measures” and a looming “day of reckoning.” But his remarks, while rhetorically effective, were even more vague about the details of that reckoning than the president’s address. Ryan owes his prominence, in part, to his willingness to propose a very specific blueprint for addressing the entitlement system’s fiscal woes. But in his first big moment on the national stage, the words “Medicare” and “Social Security” did not pass the Wisconsin congressman’s lips.
None of this was particularly surprising. It’s clear that both parties have decided that a period of divided government twelve months before a presidential election is the wrong time to make big moves on entitlements and the deficit. Better to wait, jockey for position, and hope that the correlation of forces after 2012 will be more favorable to their preferred solutions.
But to further defend feckless politicians, not only is evading the entitlement challenge politically smart but economically speaking there’s no reason to focus on the deficit right now. Imagine a car driving on a very straight patch of empty highway at 45 miles per hour. Thirty miles ahead comes a very steep curve that’s dangerous to take any faster than 20 miles per hour. You’re going too fast. You’re going to have to slow down soon. But right now you’re going too slow. There’s no reason to be driving 45 mph on an empty straight highway. The fact that in the future you need to slow down and take a tricky turn is neither here nor there.