Will merely moving ‘forward’ be enough for the American people?
With just over three weeks to go, we’ve got ourselves a ball game. President Obama’s bizarrely listless performance in last week’s debate has served as the fillip the Romney campaign sorely needed, and has led polls to indicate a Presidential race that is now too close to call. Vice President Joe Biden came out fighting in Thursday’s debate with Republican rival Paul Ryan, but while that may rouse the troops once more it is unlikely to change the face of an increasingly close election.
While members of the media will delight at the injection of some genuine excitement into the race, some have also been prompted to wonder whether this is an election devoid of the candidates and political debate Americans ‘deserve’. It is a notion that began to gain traction after the party conventions, where sweeping rhetoric and ideological posturing were conspicuous by their absence from both candidates’ speeches. In truth though, it was always going to be this way. Obama has hardly convinced over the last four years, and Mitt Romney was seen even by his own party as the lesser of quite a few evils.
In 2008 Barack Obama soared to the Presidency on the back of an inspired and inspiring campaign. As his opponents are now only too keen to remind us all, his promises of ‘hope and change’ seem an age ago. The global financial crisis changed that election in Obama’s favour, but has undoubtedly handicapped his Presidency. The recession that followed has proven to be the worst since the Great Depression, and serves as a stark reminder that “the best laid plans of mice and men” do indeed go often awry.
Whatever the reality, Obama had too many convinced that his were not just empty words but real possibilities for a perception that he has failed to deliver not to hold sway. It is not just random events that have held his presidency back, though. This is the most unpopular Congress in history, and it is no wonder. After two years in which even a Democratic House did not allow the smooth implementation of Obama’s policies, Republicans declared their sweeping success in the 2010 mid-terms a mandate to block everything the President proposed. The impasse cannot be attributed simply to partisan gamesmanship, however. Perhaps the only alternative plan advanced by a Republican (it would be a stretch to claim it was credible) was that of one Paul Ryan. His budget proposal was so radical the Republican leadership did their best to avoid being tarnished by association, and such apparent ideological polarisation would do nothing to aid the likelihood of bipartisan agreement.
So it was that Ryan’s selection as a Vice Presidential candidate raised hopes, and expectations, of an injection of ‘big ideas’ into this otherwise ‘unworthy’ contest. No such luck; Romney’s impressive debate performance and rebound in the polls has been driven by a repositioning away from the self-described ‘severely conservative’ of the Republican primaries to a reasonable moderate perhaps not too dissimilar from the Mitt Romney who served as Governor of Massachusetts until 2007.
Perhaps Americans are finally getting tired of outlandish promises and overblown rhetoric; receptive instead to a reasonable debate over contemporary issues. More likely, they are so dissatisfied with Obama’s failure to deliver on those promises and that rhetoric that any opponent able to present themselves as not all that radical would have a decent shot. You know, just as long as they could avoid sticking their foot in their mouth for more than a week.
The nature of this election, and the candidates fighting it, means that on November 6th Americans will not be presented with as stark a choice as they are used to. This need not be viewed so negatively.
The battle in this election is not between a wild-eyed Republican fringe and a European social democrat. The clash is not over the fundamental ideas on which America is based. Yes, the outcome will impact heavily upon countless major issues on a national and global level. More than this though, the battle in this election is within America itself. It is a conflict that could define the country’s ability to prosper in a changing world. Is it so determined to cling on to this naïve notion of a dream that its leaders must promise what they can’t possibly deliver? Is it so convinced of its own exceptionalism that it will demand greatness at every turn when simply getting by is difficult enough? Theirs is a political system and culture that impels discussion to centre on absolutes, and governing on compromise. A vicious cycle of overpromising, under delivering and political apathy has set in and nothing encapsulates that more neatly than this Presidency.
Four years ago Barack Obama promised the world and for a variety of reasons, though largely because it was never possible, has not delivered. Now, perhaps more out of electoral necessity than any fundamental ideological rethink, President Obama no longer asks Americans to vote for those same heady ideals. The question that Americans must answer at this election is one he will not pose. It is one that goes against their very nature. Must America always soar, or is merely moving ‘forward’ enough?
Posted on October 16, 2012, in Comment, Foreign Affairs, Looking Forward, US Politics and tagged 2008 US election, Barack Obama, Democrats, forward, Mitt Romney, President Obama, Republican Primary, Republicans, US elections. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.