To many in the Republican party, the election of Barack Hussein Obama to the Presidency was a shocker. It wasn’t just his race, though that clearly added to the “different” factor. It was his background and the fact that he had a very different heritage and image than any other American President. Ever.
This opened the door to fantasy. Maybe he wasn’t a real American – hence the birthers. Others were convinced that he was an anti-American anti-colonialist at the core (Newt Gingrich played that card recently), bent on destroying America from within. Still others thought he was a radical leftist, more socialist than liberal, bent on leading the country into some kind of massive wealth redistribution plan. He would be soft on foreign policy because his heart won’t be into defending America. Perhaps very telling early on was the claim that he was “apologizing” for America — even though when pressed, not one instance of an apology could be found.
Four years later it’s hard for some Republicans to give up the convenient “Obama as radical/strange” image that spurred them to mobilize for the 2010 off year elections. But President Obama has a four year record, and it’s nothing like those scary images of Obama as some Manchurian candidate with a nefarious hidden agenda. In fact, if you have to run on “he’s been faking it for four years his real plans will come out after re-election,” you’ve lost.
That doesn’t mean that that Mitt Romney doesn’t have a case to make for himself, or against Obama. Every election is about an exchange of ideas and discussion of plans. There should be disagreements and debates. It’s just that they need to let go of the image of Obama as somehow strange, different or dangerous. That’s been utterly disproven. Obama has a record.
Republicans will chaffe at some of the claims made in this Obama video, but clearly the President’s team wants to run on his record, arguing that he’s accomplished a lot despite the GOP being the “party of no,” obstructing action. The most damning clip is that of Senate Minority Leader McConnell saying the biggest priority for the Republicans is to prevent the re-election of President Obama. That’s always a priority for an opposition party, but one would hope the biggest priority would be to fix the economy and move the country in a positive direction, working with the President if possible.
A deeper issue isn’t only that many conservatives over reacted fearfully to a man that appeared different, but that Obama is the future. Not him personally, but what he represents. Even if Romney were to pull off an upset and unseat Obama, the 21st Century is going to see a country more open on social issues and with white Europeans becoming less prominent. Right now these demographic changes help the Democrats because the GOP has embraced fear.
Fear of Obama has led to over the top accusations that make the Democrats look moderate by comparison. Fear of immigration and demographic change — the idea that America is somehow being “lost” — have led the GOP to reject President Bush and Senator McCain’s vision of sustainable immigration reform and become seen as anti-immigrant. And though Romney may have trouble walking back the anti-immigration bravado he displayed during the primary campaign, future Republicans will no doubt switch directions. A cadre of the GOP is lingering in the 20th Century and holding their party back.
The Democrats have their 20th Century ghosts to banish as well. An emphasis on special interest groups, big government solutions to problems and rejection of any entitlement reform ultimately will hold them back. Obama’s pragmatic approach has kept those forces at bay, at least for now. Still, many on the left attack Obama precisely because he’s not different in the way they hoped he’d be. Many liberal activists hoped he’d bring radical change and the very things the right feared; he has not.
This means that contrary to the perception that might arise in the media — especially on the more sensationalist websites like Drudgereport or The Huffington Post, this election is at base a rather boring contest between a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat. If Obama wins a second term, don’t expect major changes in policy. Not only will he be unlikely to have a Democratic Congress, but second terms are usually for consolidating changes made in the first term, not bold initiatives. If Romney wins there will be symbolic attempts to change things like health care reform, but the changes of the last four years will likely prove resilient. Democrats will probably stay in control of the Senate, but would have filibuster power on big issues in any event.
While it is distressing to see the nastiness flow or watch the waves of attack ads, often from nefarious groups supposedly outside the control of the campaigns, there is something heartening to the fact that there really isn’t much to fear about either candidate winning. In fact, an Obama win might push the GOP to more quickly embracing changes that can make it competitive for the long term.
The Romans said that politics was “bread and circuses – panem et circenses.” The circuses may now be rowdy, and there does seem to be a dsyfunction in our political discourse. These are serious. But the fact we have two competent moderate candidates leading their parties into the election is a sign that the American political system can work through these issues.