The good news: If there’s any single demographic you want to clean up in, it’s the one famous for high turnout election after election after election. Jackpot.

The bad news: Looks like we’re now the party of Medicare and Social Security. But then, we’ve been that party for awhile now, haven’t we?

Seniors voted last week by an almost 60-40 split for Republican House candidates, after splitting evenly between Democrats and Republicans in the 2006 midterms. And voters 65 and older made up 24 percent of those casting votes last week…

Republicans, who will control the House in the next Congress, have vowed to cut spending in the federal budget, and entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare make up more than half of the budget. Significant cuts can’t happen without addressing these programs.

Changing those programs will be nearly impossible, with advocacy powers like AARP and other seniors’ groups resisting change…

[GOP strategist Ron] Bonjean hinted that entitlement change won’t come until the problems get really bad. Americans don’t like to deal with problems, he said, until they are “front and center and almost in a crisis level — like the economic situation we’re in right now.”

Translation: “No worries. All it’ll take is a Greece-like meltdown.” This is why, as much as I enjoyed Ace’s appeal this afternoon for true, clear-eyed, time-to-choose fiscal sanity, I think he’s kidding himself:

We can balance the budget (or at least come close to that, over several years). But the parties cannot keep agreeing to honor each other’s top priority at the expense of ballooning the budget. It doesn’t work. Cut taxes, increase spending, balance the budget: Select any two.

The public will not make this choice until and unless political leaders insist that they make it. One of three popular public goods will have to be abandoned. They will have to finally choose if they wish to continue putting off such decisions and shellacking their children with huge debt due to their failure to make serious decisions (an option, by the way, that is no longer economically viable); or if they wish to pay another 10-15% of their wages to the government; or if they are willing to see government spending, including spending on popular subsidies for the middle class, cut dramatically.

This is what I was getting at in last week’s post about what the tea party can and should do with its megaphone going forward. You’re never going to get seniors to support Social Security and Medicare reform (which is why even Paul Ryan’s plan calls for leaving the programs as-is for taxpayers aged 55 or older), but you might build momentum among younger and middle-aged voters for reform with a campaign to educate people on how much of the federal budget is sunk into nondiscretionary spending. In a nutshell, if you’re not talking specifically and emphatically about fixing those two programs, you’re not seriously talking about cutting federal spending and you’re certainly not talking seriously about balancing the budget. There’s no higher purpose the tea party could devote itself to than bringing those leviathans under control; it’s nice that some tea party groups include a question or two about Social Security and Medicare in their candidate questionnaires, but that’s a mistake in itself insofar as it treats those two programs as just two among many where we might make a serious dent in the annual deficit. Not so. Again, see Philip Klein’s pie chart to grasp the magnitude of the problem. Cut defense spending, by all means, but understand that you’re talking about less than 20 percent of the problem in so doing. The only game in town, really, is “mandatory spending,” and fiscal conservatives will have to move heaven and earth to change that. So let’s start moving them. See Karl’s post here for more.

Update: If we can’t even get one of the Paul boys to draw the line at earmarks, I fear all hope is lost.