Election 2012: A Campaign of Ideas?

I love a good fight, and nothing spells “Smack Down” like pissing off a Scotsman.  The Scotsman in question is Niall Ferguson, and the fight is over nothing less than the most important American election in a generation.  Last week, Ferguson came out swinging in Newsweek, calling the Obama administration everything but nice.  There was immediate retaliation and the war of the words was on.  I’m not going to go into the wherefores and the why right now, but you can read about it here, and follow the links all over the place.  The interesting thing is that maybe, just maybe, the 2012 presidential race is going to be a real election with issues and ideas and all kinds of other good stuff.  It could happen!

Regardless of which side of the aisle you’re on, up until a couple of weeks ago, it was pretty well agreed that the American election was going to be an outrageously expensive snoozefest.  Sure, Barack Obama wasn’t high-flying adored anymore, but he still had enough Evita Peron leftover to dazzle the multitudes.  On the other hand, Romney wasn’t exactly tearing it up in the charisma department.  The Man from Bland was living up to the moniker.  Meanwhile, the media, still a little uncomfortable with the laissez-faire treatment they’d given Barack the first time around, had decided to sit this one out.  Their strategy was that the Republicans would probably be Sarah im-palin themselves again, long before the bicoastal opinionators had to take a hand.  So they were spending their days drinking lattes and waiting for the latest Republican gaffe to Twitter by.  Enter Paul Ryan.

Ryan’s selection as the Republican vice-presidential nominee was a game changer.  Suddenly, the Republicans had something more to do with their time than get all defensive about things like gay rights and abortion.  Ryan made his bones babysitting the Budget in Congress.  He is a man with a plan and, like it or not, his economic theses are going to get nailed up on Obama’s cathedral door.  Basically, that’s what Niall Ferguson (a former advisor to John McCain) was doing — in 10,000 words or less — in Newsweek.

The Republicans know that they haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of beating Obama in a popularity contest – the guy’s just too ubercool.  For example, he won a Nobel Peace Prize a couple days after he signed orders to seriously escalate the war in Afghanistan.  When you think about that objectively, the only thing you can say is “Wow!”  Actually, I’m surprised the Nobel people didn’t just throw in the Literature Prize as well.  After all, somebody wrote The Audacity of Hope.  My point is there isn’t a Republican alive with that kind of star power.  Mano a mano, the GOP’s best shot would be to resurrect Lincoln.  Even then, there wouldn’t be any guarantees.  So what to do to get to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

It not very complicated, really.  For any number of reasons, Obama has not delivered on his promises of change.   It’s obvious he’s made some terrible decisions, but, I think he didn’t have a hope, given the expectations put on the poor guy.  However, regardless of how he got here, even the apologists admit that the last four years have not been kind to him or America.  Now, with unemployment reaching double digits in some places, entitlement programs eating the budget faster than the Treasury can print money, a national debt that’s soaring into the stratosphere and an economy that’s hit rock bottom and started to dig, Obama’s vision of America is on trial.  Mitt has to offer a clear alternative.  He needs to stay away from the culture wars the Democrats love so much and match Obama — ideology for ideology.  Turning this campaign into a contest of ideas isn’t going to be easy, but, if he does, the White House could be well within his grasp.

Ever since John Kennedy took centre stage at the Kennedy/Nixon debates in 1960, American politics have leaned heavily on personality.  It would be totally refreshing if a candidate as unlikely as Mitt Romney could change all that.

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