Today’s Courier Herald Column:
America faces a stark choice for this Presidential election. Despite third party groups who choose to paint the contrast between the Republicans and Democrats as two versions of the same flavor, there is perhaps a difference in philosophy between these choices that is greater than any election since 1980, and possibly even since 1972. In many ways this contest has been ongoing for four full years. Such is the nature of campaigns these days. Tuesday, it is again time to choose.
Americans do not vote against incumbent Presidents easily. In the last 50 years only two have lost a re-election bid. We are a nation that likes to criticize, but often still prefers the known status quo to the fear of the unknown. As too many corporate management consultants are overpaid to say, “we fear change”.
Yet with the backdrop of the housing market collapse and interconnected banking turmoil of four years ago, change was not only desired but demanded. Along with it, we were given the promise of hope. The two words coupled together were enough to capture the imagination of a fearful public who had no idea what problems were ahead of them. They were delivered by a reassuring telegenic messenger – A fresh face who offered stark contrast of the status quo which had failed so dramatically and abruptly. The American people embraced the idea of change.
We were short changed.
The President who promised to bring the parties together summoned Republican leaders for a bi-partisan photo op outside the white house early in his Presidency. When one spoke up to offer a contribution, the President responded on camera with a dismissive “I won”. It was but one of many early signals that the rhetoric of the campaign would not reflect how this President would govern.
Instead of working together the President remained distant and alone. Bob Woodward, who has chronicled the inner workings of virtually every administration since Watergate writes in his new book the amazing distance President Obama has between himself and members of Congress from both parties. His dramatic rise through political ranks left him little time to forge the friendships and alliances that may be unseemly to some who reject the notion of any backroom dealing, but are in reality quite critical to the way Washington works.
His challenger, by contrast, was Governor of the most Democratic state in the country. He has been an executive in government, corporate, and non-profit settings. He understands that speeches filled with hope and idealism are nice, but unless there is a tactical and realistic way to implement those ideas, as well as metrics to gage their success, then words are, in fact, just words.
The President, whose actual record is in stark contrast to the promises made as a candidate and during his first year, has instead chosen to abandon hope and change for an attempt to characterize Mitt Romney as someone who is aloof and out of touch. Romney, in response, spent most of the early part of his campaign – including the critical infomercial that is what political conventions have become – to sell himself as a person instead of focusing on his agenda.
The debates, written off by many pundits as events that no longer matter, allowed the candidates to face off and for once, revealed much of their contrast in style and substance. In the first debate, voters were able to see a candidate who has had to sell his ideas to investors, legislators of opposing parties, and taxpayers. They were also able to see the response from a President whose career has been one of speeches filled with lofty rhetoric but often lacking in substance. One who has been surrounded by a bubble of yes-men for four years who seems out of practice with having genuine conversations with those who disagree.
Whichever of these men is chosen to serve our country for the next four years will face a daunting challenge of moving a legislative agenda through a hyper-partisan Congress while facing the will of a sharply divided electorate. With the challenges we face, however, we cannot afford four more years of gridlock.
I will be voting for the person whose experience in bringing together those of opposite parties extends beyond speeches and into actual experience demonstrated in the Governor’s Mansion in Massachusetts. Mitt Romney is my version of hope and change.