We’re finally done. No more debates, no more speeches, no more ads, no more polls. Now we – Americans – will vote (or not) and this long, national nightmare will finally be over.
It’s been an ugly trudge from the midterms to now. Die-hard American politicos – the ones who were looking forward to a good fight full of big ideas – must be really bummed out. Mark Shields and David Brooks are, and they’re generally the nicest guys in the business. They’re both discouraged by the smallness, the small-mindedness of both of these presidential campaigns. And they’re right.
I’ve long wished that the substantive, genial, quick and to-the-point weekly conversation between Shields and Brooks on PBS’ Newshour defined the political discourse for this country, for our leaders, but it hasn’t, and it doesn’t and it won’t. The best pundits are operating on a vastly higher plane of consciousness than the candidates are, and that’s not really how it should be. That’s how bad this election cycle is. We deserve better candidates, especially now, at this moment in human history.
Both Obama v. 2012 and Romney v. 2012.1/.2/.3/.4/... are all political underachievers.
Romney’s entire 2012 presidential run – outside of the outsised praise for his first debate performance – has been a complete abortion. He can’t be proud of the campaign he has run. His Republican Tea Party pandering throughout the primaries was followed by a sad and ridiculous convention. They chased Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin away from it only to give an old man and a chair 15 minutes of national ramble-time? From there, Romney went on to a multi-week fuck-up that sent the Becks and Palins and Limbaughs scurrying and crying bloody foul. And they had a point. If he loses, they will be vindicated. What they really wanted was a big campaign full of big, bat-shit crazy ideas and Romney wasn’t the guy to follow through. They saw right through him (but not past those goddamn impenetrable underwear).
The one, potentially visionary move he did make was in his selection of a running-mate. Whatever you think of Paul Ryan and his stream-of-consciousness pseudo-budget “The Path to Prosperity”, it’s a major re-engineering of America as we know it, and that ranks it in the category of big ideas. The only problem is that neither Romney nor Ryan really campaigned defending or explaining or championing “The Path” (it sounds creepier if you shorten it like that). It’s like the other Book Of Mormon of this campaign: it’s there, under the guy’s pillow, and he lives his life by it, but he doesn’t really want to talk about it.
So, Romney got a vision point for choosing Ryan and then quickly forfeited that point in the kind of characteristic Romneyan flip-flop that people have come to accept, embrace and even admire. Remember when that simple phrase was the dirtiest word in American politics?! Remember?! It wasn’t that long ago. Oy.
Obama came out the gates with a sputter. His convention speech was a dud, a wasted opportunity to set the tone and the vision for his candidacy. Instead he was upstaged by Bill Clinton, who was lauded for his clarity and sincerity. He spoke like he cared. Obama spoke like he used to care. Not a great start. Listen to Obama’s last great speech, his “State of the Union” in January 2012. Now that was a speech. That guy had a clear vision – a heroic championing of the fundaments of the American middle class with an accent on positioning America for success, in financial, education and energy policies, for a new, fucked-up future. It was hard to argue with that speech. Where did that guy go?
You know, given the chance to fix things, Obama would love to abort his run for a second term. What a missed opportunity to go down in history as a master campaigner. It was all teed up for him and he didn’t rise to the occasion.
From his dud of a convention speech, Obama stumped across the country, and though he seemed to really enjoy himself on the trail in the wake of that shitty speech, the strategy was not to reprise a vision reminiscent of Obama ’08. Instead, Obama ’12 post-convention/pre-debate was designed to let the Romney campaign hang itself. Every day brought a new gaffe or problem and, remarkably, a barrage of new criticism from the right itself. Remember Peggy Noonan’s scathing editorial in The Wall Street Journal in September? She wasn’t alone. Conservatives were disgusted with Romney, the campaign was a bloody mess and it looked like it was all over for Romney.
Then the first debate happened. It turned out to be the only debate that mattered.
In that debate Romney made two decisive moves: 1.) he tacked to a more moderate middle, no one disputes that – not even FOX or the Tea Party, neither of which have criticised him for the move; and 2.) amazingly, from this potentially vanilla middle-ground position, he managed – mostly through elocution and body language – to be more aggressive and assertive and confrontational than the President. Obama, caught off-guard by the moves, chose to present himself as thoughtful and systematic. And the press – the left press especially – hammered him for it. Romney surged and erased all of Peggy Noonan’s criticism in the process. He caught up to Obama, and even passed him in a lot of polls and he’s been there ever since. Obama lost that debate. If he loses the presidency, I blame that one debate.
But what was it all about, on substance? What did we learn in that first debate?
Romney’s big vision was (and still is), “I’m better than he is. I can do better.” Obama’s big vision was (and still is), “I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing and raise taxes on the wealthy to do it.”
Not exactly chest-thumping messaging. Not the stuff that transformative elections are supposed to be about.
This election was supposed to be about what it was supposed to be about: it was supposed to be about the end of America as we know it.
America, as currently contemplated, doesn’t work. The infrastructure sucks (see Sandy), the financial institutions suck (see 2008 to now), there needs to be a national consensus on an aggressively forward-thinking energy plan because global warming is real (see Sandy again), the schools suck and are too expensive and health care costs are too high (can Obamacare really reverse this trend?)... I could go on and on.
America needs to be dismantled and reassembled with purpose. That’s what this election was supposed to be about. But neither candidate had the balls to suggest as much.
Good luck, America.
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