Presidential election should focus on issues, not winning

May 7, 2012

Jesse Byrnes
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It’s nearly summer, and we thought the Republican race for the nomination would never end. With such a drawn-out primary season, it seems like the presidential election should be over by now. But grab your popcorn and Coke, because it’s only intermission. The real fun is about to begin.

We’re down to President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The two will go all-out in a battle of wit, wisdom and, of course, wealth – OK, maybe just an all-out battle of wealth. Still, what can we expect for the two campaigns leading up to the general election in November?

As challenger, Romney will continue to push messages of failed leadership, lackluster economic resolution and misguided policy decisions from President Obama’s first four years in office. With traditionally high unemployment, burgeoning gas prices and low economic confidence, Romney has plenty of fodder to droll up resentment against another Obama term.

The Obama reelection campaign – like all reelection campaigns – will rely on promoting ideals of consistency, trust and big-picture thinking. “An America Built to Last” is supposed to inspire voters to give Obama a second chance in the hopes that he knows what he’s doing and has a bigger plan for the economy. But a handful of bailouts and a few trillion more to the deficit later, the economy clunks along lazily, allowing little room for celebration.

Despite their campaigns’ differences, Obama and Romney have their similarities: both like their teleprompter and mechanical speeches, both love to see themselves in suits and both have a lot of money behind them.

At some point, President Obama has to own the state of the economy based on his own economic policies – he can no longer campaign on the idea that he “inherited this mess” from President Bush. Similarly, Romney is going to use Obama’s old campaign strategy against him, channeling general government disapproval directly at the president.

Of course, pomp and circumstance will play a role. Successful campaigns need to be healthy, wealthy and wise – and neither campaign is going to lack wealth, with each side committing to raise hundreds of millions of dollars for their campaigns, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars tied into the system through both sides’ Super PACs.

Should we continue to focus on just winning? It’s easy to get caught-up in the glitz and glamour of campaigning and nostalgic candidates. As he highlighted in his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, President Obama pointed to Romney’s two Harvard degrees and jokingly said, “What a snob” – before saying that he [Obama] only has one Harvard degree.

While we focus on who respects dogs the most, or who has the better vacation home, or whose family looks the most suave, or whose wife has a higher approval rating – sensationalized, nonessential issues in the most important election of our lifetime (aren’t they all?) – the federal government continues to sustain massive deficit spending, increased government breadth and diminished personal freedom and economic security.

Just when you think that our debt “cannot be ignored any longer,” it gets ignored longer. You’d think phrases like “You’re bankrupting our country” and “You’re digging a hole for our grandchildren” would begin to resonate. But few politicians have the backbone to stand up and advocate a budget that makes necessary cuts to federal spending.

Not surprising, since Democratic Senate leadership has not proposed nor passed a budget in three and a half years. Though, more legislators on both sides could rise to the occasion and make the gutsy decision to offer up their ideas on how to cut the deficit.

The Obama and Romney trains will chug full-steam-ahead to November. Depending on who blinks first, this race will come down to the wire – each vote a war cry for consistency or change. And during a time when nearly everything is “unprecedented,” Romney has a chance to set a precedent and defeat Obama – then step up to bat and show some real leadership in Washington.