Jeb Bush spoke to the United Fresh Produce Association’s opening day general session, and it was perhaps the first time I heard a politician or former politician enunciate so clearly how dire the U.S. debt crisis has become.

Bush, the former Florida governor, spoke for about 38 minutes and only a few minutes were filler. He gave a nod to his father’s notorious broccoli remark of 1990. For a refresher, after banning broccoli from Air Force One, George Bush senior said:

“I do not like broccoli. And I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it. And I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccolis.”

Jeb Bush recalled his mother’s “executive order” that the rest of the family double their broccoli consumption to make up for her husband’s shortcoming.  “I’m not going to say that I like broccoli or not, but I can tell you I ate it with great joy because the boss of our family is our mom.”

The meat of Bush’s speech – no pun intended – addressed the fiscal and psychological place America is at.

2010 has seen a dark cloud hover over America, Bush said.
While there are more opportunities for self betterment now than in the history of the world, Bush also spoke of the incredible dysfunction, massive government waste and fraud, the collapse of Wall Street and the worst recession in a half a century.

“As a country, we have overcome far worse,” Bush said, noting the U.S. survived the Great Depression, the Soviet threat.

“As we grapple with what is called The Great Recession, there seems to be a dark cloud, a larger and deeper pessimism in our country,” he said. “My belief is that we will come out of our funk, but the question is how. Will we accept the warm blanket of government security or will we take the more treacherous but more beneficial path of opportunity as we have always done before. “To me that is the great question that Americans are struggling with, each and every day in their own way.”

Bush said that America stands at a crossroads and the path the country chooses will define the country’s
identity as a nation.

On one hand is a welfare state, where the government attempts to micromanage the economy and solve problems of people through government.

The other path is to renew America’s commitment to freedom and entrepreneurship, which Bush said is the defining element of American exceptionalism.

“Put another way, are we going to accept the more predictable 1% or 2% growth over the next decade of time, or the more dynamic but less predictable 3% or 4%?”

The difference in economic opportunity in those two futures is stark, he said – about $3.66 trillion over 10 years, or equal to the GNP of Germany.

To achieve that higher growth rate, Bush outlined a 5-point plan to address the issues of fiscal policy, tax simplification, energy policy, immigration, and education.

Perhaps the most singular point Bush made in my mind was his focus on the federal fiscal policy that present a “clear and present danger” to our future hopes.

Given current fiscal policy, he said the U.S. currency may lose it status as the currency of record in the world economy, as higher inflation will limit the ability of government to live within its means.

Half of the U.S. public debt is owned by foreign countries and 100% of the trillion dollars of net debt created each year is now owned by the Chinese, the Japanese and the Saudis.

The federal government’s 2010 budget increases total spending $3.9 trillion dollars, or 28% of the U.S. gross domestic product. That’s the highest level in U.S. history since World War II, and Bush said in 10 years the public debt may equal $12 trillion, putting it roughly at 90% of the entire economy of the U.S.

Servicing the interest on the debt in ten years will require $350 billion, or about half of the current Defense Department budget.

“We should live within our means which means we should have a federal balanced budget amendment.”

He suggested outrage over the worsening fiscal outlook may lead to a Constitution convention to take up the balanced budget amendment.

That solution was just the first suggestion of several politically tough ideas that Bush put forward, including means testing for Social Security, embracing immigrants and putting an end to entitlements as they are known today.

“I would suggest to you that there is no such thing as entitlements anymore: we ought to blow up the language and start anew.” With 57% of the U.S. budget taken up by entitlements and that percentage growing, Bush said we can’t keep ignoring the issue.

Bush can be credited with clearly spelling out his vision of two paths ahead for America. One of those choices will result in the U.S. looking more like Europe, while the other, promising more opportunity, could also bring its own pain.

Jeb Bush had much more to say about taxes, immigration and more. But the message of two paths, two futures, should be a vital part of the political debate going forward.