Election day is fast approaching. By this time next week Barack Obama will have been elected to a second term or Mitt Romney will have been elected the 45th President of the United States. Presidential elections are a quadrennial ritual in this country and at times they can seem tiresome, trite, or even downright toxic; some would say that this election has been even more so. But at this time, just a few short days before Americans exercise that most fundamental right, that of choosing who will lead the nation for the next four years, it’s important to think about and remember what these elections mean.
Presidential elections are as much about the past as they are about the future. To win reelection a president must first prove that their time in office has fulfilled the promises he (or she) made four years before. But elections are also about the future; not just about making a new set of promises for the next term but laying out a plan for the future of the nation, something that President George W. Bush referred to as “the vision thing.” The Republican campaign to unseat the President has sought to be a referendum on the last four years. Their candidate, Governor Mitt Romney, has proclaimed time and time again that the President’s policies have been a failure, that he has not fulfilled the promises he made to the American people when then-candidate Barack Obama asked them to stand with him and say “Yes we can”. Romney points to the stubbornly high unemployment rate, which only this month dipped below 8 percent, really for the first time since the President took office, as evidence that President Obama has failed to lead America out of the depths of the recession. Romney points to the high price of gasoline and the high-profile failure of green energy companies like Solyndra as evidence that Obama’s energy policy is wrong for America. Romney even uses the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya to suggest that Obama’s foreign policy is, in the words of his running mate “unraveling before our eyes.” These are just a few examples of Governor Romney’s broad and scathing assessment of Obama’s tenure as the leader of the free world. As was mentioned earlier, however, campaigns aren’t only about the past. Just as important is the future — “the vision thing”.
It’s important to note here that Romney’s critique of Obama’s time in office is by no means uncontested. The president has no control over the price of gasoline, for example. The price of gas, like almost everything else, is determined by the same forces of capitalism so worshipped by today’s Republican Party. The high unemployment rate and record numbers of people on food stamps are a product of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, a crisis which began under the watch of the Republican Party, a party whose policy of deregulating Wall Street allowed the big banks to make huge, risky bets with other people’s money and were in large part responsible for the near total collapse of our economy. All that is the past, however. People can litigate who was responsible for what until the Minnesota Vikings win a Super Bowl, but none of that changes the fact that this election is as much about the next four years as it is about the last four.
This is where the back and forth between the two campaigns and the two parties ends. Republicans talk tough on the debt America has accumulated as a nation thus far but offer no credible plan to deal with the debt or its effects. To paint the picture, President Obama has endorsed the idea of a plan that involves $2 of spending cuts for every $1 in increased revenue. Mitt Romney, by contrast, was asked in a Republican primary debate whether he would accept a plan that cut $10 in spending for every $1 in new revenues, and he, along with every other individual on that stage, said “No.” Romney talks about the failure of Obama’s foreign policy, but what does he proposes no alternative. During the Republican primary, Romney repeated a soundtrack of the same kind of Lone Ranger diplomacy that came to so characterize the Bush administration, almost to the point of parody. But when push came to shove in the general election and the Republicans needed help with independents, Romney draped himself all over Obama’s foreign policy. In the third debate Romney forced himself to agree with the President’s handling of issues like Libya, Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt and even the drone war, without offering a distinction between the President’s positions and his own. One of Obama’s best lines from that debate was when he stopped to tell Romney “You seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.”
This is really the takeaway from the 2012 campaign. Mitt Romney, as the standard bearer of the Republican Party, brings nothing new to the table. Everything in his playbook has been seen before and this is the reason why the Obama campaign chose the slogan “Forward.” Partisan jibber-jabber aside, let’s be very clear. There is a logical case that can be made for small government conservatism, and most Democrats who know what they’re talking about can admit that. The Republican Party, though, no longer represents that principle, it’s been totally waylaid by corporate money and special interests which devote themselves to pushing the same deregulatory policies that were so devastating to the economy in 2008. The Republican’s official position is that the Dodd-Frank bill, the first real financial regulation law in decades should be repealed. This policy also allows the continued destruction of the environment by failing to adequately regulate the companies which profit from it. So when you step into the voting booth next Tuesday, remember this one thing. This election is about more than choosing the kind of country you want to live in, it’s about the kind of country you want your children and your grandchildren to live in. Don’t vote for the candidate with the snappiest one-liners or the sharpest rhetoric or the one you’d most like to have a beer with. It’s about moving forward, not back, so vote for whichever candidate you think will move us in that direction, vote for whichever candidate you think has a better plan for the future. It’s about “the vision thing.”