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The Pettiness of the Presidential Race

The presidential race has been rather petty. Negative messages amplified by millions of dollars of ad buys have drowned out any real discussions on how to address the major issues our country faces. One can hope that these were just pre-season antics, and now that the players have been named for both teams, we’ll see an elevated level of play. One can hope.

Thus far, a voter looking for concrete proposals from either candidate has been left unsatisfied. From the Obama campaign, we’ve seen some of the same tactics used against Governor Romney that were once targeted at President Obama. The claims that “he wasn’t born in America” have been replaced by “he doesn’t bank in America.” Calls to see a birth certificate have been replaced by demands to see tax returns. While these tactics don’t carry some of the racist undertones of the shots lobbed at Mr. Obama, they serve a similar, divisive strategy – to encourage voters to question whether they really know Mr. Romney, and whether Mr. Romney knows them. A life of Swiss bank accounts and Dressage is so foreign (figuratively and literally) to most Americans that they couldn’t possibly imagine having dinner with this guy. And if they can’t imagine having a meal with him, then they certainly wouldn’t imagine casting a vote in his favor.

Meanwhile, as the Obama campaign depletes their resources, the Romney campaign is debating which Mitt Romney should come out to play and saving their war chest for a certain October onslaught. Too afraid or confused to claim success for Governor Romney’s time in business, running the Olympics, or as governor of Massachusetts, the campaign has mastered the art of making a statement without saying anything at all, trying not to aggravate their base or the Independents they still hope to win. It seems that nearly every statement has been followed by a pull-back, a frenzy of negative responses from Conservatives commentators, or some other “etch-a-sketch” shakeup returning it to the blank slate that is Mitt Romney, someone that is both the “chief executive officer” and retired, proud of the healthcare system he created in Massachusetts but wary of its merits for the rest of the nation.

What we’ve been left with is one candidate who wants you to focus on the other guy and another candidate who is not yet sure what kind of guy he wants to be. Reporters are now suggesting that the selection of Paul Ryan for the Republican ticket will help elevate the discussion, and shift the focus to a more substantial policy debate between two very different views of the role of government in society. If nothing else, it will definitely mobilize the bases of both parties, with Conservatives excited about the possibility to finally reduce the size of government for future generations, and Progressives determined not to let everything they’ve fought for in past generations slip away. The choices are now clear, and the decision that voters will make in November is major. Let’s hope that over the next few months, we’ll have a debate focused on policy over politics, and one that will finally provide the electorate with the substance it needs to decide which solutions it prefers.

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