The big news this past week was President Obama's speech on the budget. It was an important, smart speech - with one major failing, which I will get to.
But for those of you wondering what Obama stands for - what his core beliefs are - I would suggest that you read or watch the speech. It was an intelligent, passionate defense of his view of America and of the role of government.
It is left of center, but not that far from the center.
He starts, after all, by taking the problem of the long-term debt seriously, proposes major spending reductions in all areas and crucially proposes a fail-safe mechanism that would kick in if the deficit did not shrink.
It sounds like a technicality, but it is crucial and it is a sign of Obama's seriousness because most budget deficit plans, including his own, make generous assumptions about growth, revenue, efficiencies and cost savings so that on paper the plan always shows the deficit going down.
The fail-safe mechanism works thus: If the actual deficit does not go down - something that always happens, in fact - Congress is then forced to choose more spending cuts and tax increases to balance the books.
In addition to this, Obama presented a vision of an activist government that would make crucial investments in education, infrastructure and research. These investments, in my view, have been as much a part of U.S. history as a vibrant market economy. Without such government support, there would be no American semiconductor industry, no early adoption of computers, no Internet and no Global Positioning System.
On taxes, the president's position is correct and inevitable. For a generation, America has kept taxes low as spending crept up ever higher. We have made up the difference by borrowing. The real debate is simply: What manner of tax reform do we want. Closing loopholes and deductions is clearly the best approach.
Then there are the entitlement programs - Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Here, Obama was at his most eloquent but least pragmatic.
He made a powerful case for maintaining a basic social safety net for all, particularly the elderly and the poor. I think it will resonate with most Americans.
But he lost his courage in proposing sensible reforms to these programs. The number of people eligible for Social Security and Medicare is going to double by 2030. At that point, those two programs plus Medicaid will take up 60 percent of the federal budget.
So we need radical thinking to make them affordable, if only to be able to spend on all the other key investments that will fuel growth for future generations.
I praise Republican Paul Ryan's plan for its courage in presenting a budget that takes risk and proposes pain. It also had the effect of spurring Barack Obama to present his own serious proposal.
I prefer Obama's approach - which is also closer to that of the Simpson-Bowles Commission - which contains a mix of spending cuts and some tax increases, but it needs much larger cuts to entitlement programs to make it work.
But let's step back: What is critical here is that finally, after years of kicking the can down the road, America is having that long-delayed debate about its future.