10/02/2012 02:40 pm ET Updated Dec 02, 2012

Forget "Zingers" -- The Debate Is About Obama's America vs. Romney's America

You may have heard that Mitt Romney's debate prep includes his memorizing some "zingers" to fire at President Obama. This strikes me as, well, ridiculous, although it's even more ridiculous to announce this strategy before the debate. But who am I to question the strategy of the vaunted Romney campaign team?

But that's not what the debate is going to be about. The debate and, for that matter, this entire campaign offers a choice between two radically different visions of America, in terms of policy, politics, and rhetoric.

In Mitt Romney's America, you're on your own. Period. He isn't even going to "worry" about 47 percent of Americans. And that was more than just an unintended, self-inflicted zinger. That's his philosophy. It's a philosophy that says each of us succeeds or fails completely on our own, and, more so, that receiving help along the way -- if it comes from the government -- turns you into a dependent victim. Of course, his analysis ignores the ways that almost everyone, including the wealthiest business owner, has received direct help from the government. Ninety-six percent of Americans have received direct government benefits.

And on political rhetoric, Romney's America is one in which politicians employ racial dog whistles, and play on the cultural and racial anxieties of some Americans toward others in order to win votes. Let's not forget that part of Romney's America.

Obama's America, on the other hand, is one that balances our country's twin longstanding traditions: a strongly individualistic approach to success, and a recognition that we must work together -- through the institutions of our democratic government -- to do some things that we could not do as individuals. Obama's America praises success, but also emphasizes humility and a recognition that all success owes something to the achievements and structures put in place by others. It's a place that asks those who've achieved great success to contribute a slightly higher percentage of what they earn to the common good, but never demonizes people for their successes.

And, finally, Obama's America is a place that considers pitting racial and ethnic groups against one another, the ginning up of prejudice and hate, to be a moral crime of the highest order.

This election is a serious choice about what kind of country we want to be. The idea that the American people will be moved one way or the other by zingers isn't funny. Like so much else the Romney campaign has offered in recent months, that idea is downright insulting.