By Shawn Dobbs, Contributor
This year’s presidential campaign season is reaching a fever pitch as President Obama and Mitt Romney continue to ramp up their attack strategies. Obama continues to criticize Romney as a crooked capitalist and a friend of the wealthy, using his influence with Bain Capital and big business to make millions at the expense of the middle class. Romney, for his part, has responded by criticizing just about everything there is to the Obama administration, from taxes and jobs to foreign policy, border security, education and social issues.
Predictably, the election has already degenerated into a jumbled morass of zippy one-liners (“America is not better off than it was $1.8 trillion ago”) and sound bites taken out of context (“You didn’t build that”). The presidential campaign, in particular the debates, should strive to be a shining example of democracy’s greatest strengths. Instead, as usual, it has been reduced to little more than a drawn-out reality TV drama from which both participants emerge looking worse than when they started.
Stop and take a breath because this is all normal. Every four years Americans indulge in a delusion in which each and every one of us has the answer to all of our country’s problems, and everyone else is wrong, even if they agree with us.
The truth is that neither candidate has all the answers. Obama’s plan has been in action for four years with little success. In fact, by most definitions it has been a resounding failure. Unemployment remains at its highest levels in decades and entitlements are on the brink of bankruptcy, but Romney has yet to put forth any definite alternative. Simply lowering taxes is not an economic policy. Allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to proceed does not constitute an energy policy. Repealing the Affordable Care Act does not reform health care, and no matter which way you slice it, Romney has a lot to answer for on that front considering that law is based on, and mirrors in many ways, the health care legislation that he enacted in his own state as governor.
Though President Obama can’t campaign entirely on his record, Romney has shown little evidence to support his claims that things would be drastically different with him as president. Something to keep in mind, however, is the three presidential debates still to come. Hopefully during these debates we will hear more specifics from both candidates on their respective plans.
President Obama needs to use these debates as a stage to showcase his strengths. In recent months there have been some encouraging signs of economic recovery, and he needs to acknowledge those gains while shifting attention from the topic as a whole. He should focus instead on his administration’s successes, including the Affordable Care Act. Though stiffly opposed by many, it passed constitutional muster and was a cornerstone of his domestic agenda.
The president should also highlight his support for gay marriage, as well as his successes in the Middle East, including the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the success of the uprising in Libya.
Romney’s first job on the debate stage is to satisfactorily explain his differing opinions on his healthcare legislation in Massachusetts as opposed to the president’s plan, and also how he proposes to reform health care in a way different from the Affordable Care Act.
Romney should also use this as a chance to get specific on what policies he would pursue on various issues such as border security, taxes and the economy, entitlement programs and foreign policy. Romney and the GOP have criticized the president so much that they have no choice now but to present a bold and defining strategy to show the American people.
The candidates each have to showcase their strengths, and hopefully use their influence over popular opinion to keep the discourse this election cycle relevant and respectful. Of course it is not all up to the candidates- we must also rely on the media to accurately and conscientiously report news from the campaign and to pass on only that which is informative, leaving behind that which is inflammatory or irrelevant.
In other words, either the media must go completely against their nature or the average citizen must go above and beyond the average to seek out relevant information.
Both seem highly unlikely, but now wouldn’t be a bad time for either candidate to pull out some good ol’ hope and change.