09/24/2012 08:44 am ET Updated Nov 24, 2012

Opportunity Lost

Well America, here we are -- with early voting having already started and final debates and final arguments around the corner. We now sit with deep anticipation as to who will hold the reigns as our President and Leader of the Free World. It seems like it has been an eternity, filled with the ups and downs that are predictable in modern day elections. What started as a "clown show" to many is now down to a choice between two men -- one Republican, one Democrat.

Looking back at the primary season, fueled with so much hyperbole, negativity and empty rhetoric all aimed to appease a red-meat-loving base, our nation missed a generational opportunity to force a real discussion early on about the issues most salient for the next generation. A year later we are no smarter, no wiser.

We all hoped that once the Republican Party had a nominee, the conversation would pivot away from tit-for-tat entertainment and back toward a substantive debate so needed at this time in our country's history. With one war abroad (yes, I feel it's important enough to mention), a messy Middle East, a crushing mountain of debt and millions still unable to find work, we're in desperate need of an honest conversation. Perhaps at no other time since the 1860's and the 1940's has our nation been so ready for a generational conversation about what is being handed down to the next generation. How did we get here? What are we doing right now to solve these issues? And what's the actual plan going forward to make sure we come back stronger and more competitive than ever?

Unfortunately for all of us, the months since Romney locked up the nomination in May have been filled with political theatre. The news cycle was driven by the latest gaffe to roll off each candidate's tongue (remember Obama telling us "the private sector is doing just fine," and Romney insulting the British during his trip to the Olympics?). We were then left with the summer winding down, and all eyes focused on the "Veep Stakes" and the forthcoming conventions. Mr. Ryan was chosen with great hype and a hope that substance would be infused into the conversation, but as with all VP candidates, his luster only lasted for a few weeks. And while the DNC was generally viewed as having the stronger message, I'd say the conventions did more for Clint Eastwood's comedy career and Bill Clinton's popularity numbers than it did for the candidates themselves.

I've been waiting and waiting for that moment when we all "get serious." When the candidates let down their guards and square with all of us about how they're going to lead this nation. It's hard to imagine the same lack of focus under Lincoln in the '60s or under Roosevelt in the '30s and '40s. Romney can tell us the Obama administration is a train wreck and that he's going to create "millions of jobs," and conversely Obama can talk about Romney's plan to "destroy the middle class," but in the end these statements are meaningless. Neither one will talk specifics or speak to a long-term vision Americans can embrace. Today's politics is motivated by hatred and division and not by ideas and a vision. Speaking for my generation, the group most impacted by the outcome of this election (who's going to pay that debt after all?), we want to hear real ideas about the shape of things to come. We can't keep kicking the can down the road on debt and spending and expect the inherent structural issues in our economy to fix themselves. Hello! We're looking for leadership, which may require one going against the "orthodoxy" of ones political base.

So, even though this will be the most expensive election ever run, we will remain among the least informed voters. Many might blame the media's focus on the daily drama, but in the end, the candidates are required to drive the conversation. If they and their campaigns choose to focus on the nonsense of the day, there's no possible way that big picture issues will be able to break through. While there is some time left, including four (if you count the VP) heavily anticipated debates, I'm still hopeful that the transcendent issues of my generation will break though. Sadly however, if the status quo prevails, the eventual loser will be confined to the dustbin of history and our problems will remain unaddressed. And we'll all reflect back and realize this election was indeed historic, because of the generational opportunity lost.