The main themes I heard from either party touched the grievances of the middle class in an America increasingly bereft of upward mobility and income security. The Republicans tout seriousness about balancing the federal budget, but it's easy to find independent analyses of how the numbers don't add up. The Democrats remind us of the automobile industry's bailout but ignore the financial loss the federal government still incurs.
The rhetoric about saving Medicare for future recipients is necessary for votes but mathematically impossible without serious benefit cuts and cost controls. The rhetoric about making college affordable is useless in an age when more unqualified students take on crushing debt loads and then settle for low-paying jobs. This rhetoric will set voters up for inevitable disappointment.
There is no intent at present, in Washington or elsewhere, to resolve the federal government's untenable fiscal condition. The fiscal cliff at the end of 2012 is the last opportunity for our national leaders to accept the necessary short-term pain that will preserve whatever shreds of credibility that U.S. currency and sovereign debts have in the eyes of the world. Whoever is President in January 2013 can attempt to navigate the country over that cliff and prepare it for the long, hard slog afterwards that leads to a balanced budget. The alternative is business as usual, which IMHO will postpone fiscal sanity until after a hyperinflationary depression has made further tricks impossible. That outcome is an event horizon beyond which something unfamiliar to our national character can emerge, to our collective detriment.
Forget the charges of gender wars and missing birth documentation. Rhetoric doesn't matter. Reality is unavoidable. A balanced budget would be as real as it gets for America.