Closing arguments for President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney should contrast their respective records and declared agendas. But that’s not enough. Each candidate lives and breathes in a political party ecosystem with a dominant worldview and armies of enforcers to keep office-holders, even presidents, from straying too far from received doctrine.
Let’s start with the President’s record. He was sworn in facing the worst economic conditions in 80 years, and with only three Republican votes enacted an economic stimulus agenda that saved or created 1.4 to 3.3 million jobs. The stimulus worked. He saved General Motors and Chrysler from collapse, signed Wall Street reform legislation and, to top it off, drove through Congress the most important health care reform since the 1960s. He brought our troops back from Iraq as promised. Obama rang up historic accomplishments in the teeth of fierce Republican opposition even to proposals (like Obamacare) with a strong Heritage Foundation roots.
In a second term President Obama is committed to further spending restraint and entitlement reform as long as the deficit-expanding Bush tax cuts are, for the super-wealthy, repealed. He’ll make immigration reform and strengthening America’s education system important priorities.
Mitt Romney’s rhetoric reflects the right-wing fear of “dependency” if Americans choose to tackle our pressing public challenges through government action. Since the goal is for government to spend and do less, it’s no wonder that he promises big tax cuts for everyone and “big change” without explaining what he means. But we should look beyond the rhetoric.
The ideas, bundled into worldviews, which define the parties today will shape the administration of the winner on November 6th.
For most congressional Republicans today and their active supporters, government routinely infringes upon personal liberty, undermines self-reliance and is generally inefficient and incompetent. Since government is the problem, taxes should be cut, regulations reduced and—somehow—all be well in time. How that will happen is a matter of faith, not evidence. Republicans would roll back health care coverage for more than 30 million Americans who will finally obtain it through “Obamacare.” They deny the overwhelming scientific consensus about the threat of climate change. The economic plan consists of vague “free market” generalities.
People who don’t believe in government don’t run it well. That’s one lesson from the George W. Bush administration. That’s why, given the enormous challenges of making the federal government work well, it should be left in the hands of those who are willing to try.
Democrats still believe that government can be a vehicle for expanding opportunity and resolving our most difficult public challenges, which the private and non-profit sectors are unable to manage alone. Investment in infrastructure, research and education used to be largely bipartisan, but is now only important as part of the Democratic agenda. With nearly 50 million Americans unable to purchase health insurance in the “free market,” only Democrats believed urgent action was needed. Democrats still believe that a strong middle class is essential for a healthy economy and tax cuts for wealthy “job creators” (brilliant focus-grouped phrase) won’t trickle down to others. In short, “better together” is more in sync with the complexities of the 21st century than “me first.”
Finally, consider the fundamental values implicit in our democratic form of government. Abraham Lincoln said at Gettysburg we are a “nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” We may not be equal in influence, but each of us has one vote; that concept is fundamental. Yet the Republican Party has embarked on a national voter suppression campaign, state by state, designed to diminish the turnout of types of voters who might lean Democratic.
When a major American party loses its core integrity and stoops to systematic voter suppression, none of its candidates deserve your vote.