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US presidential election campaign narrows the public debate

This article is over 9 years, 4 months old
As Obama goes head to head with Romney, Eric Fretz argues that the two candidates are more alike than they would admit
Issue 2320
US presidential election campaign narrows the public debate

Barack Obama told the Democratic Party’s national convention that in the coming election, voters “face the clearest choice of any time in a generation.”

The rhetoric of both Obama’s campaign and that of his Republican Party rival Mitt Romney has emphasised their differences.

Obama has tried to present himself as a fairer and more compassionate defender of the free market than multi-millionaire Romney.

And almost every speaker at the Democratic convention emphasised their commitment to abortion rights. The Republicans call for a total ban on abortions, including in cases of rape—a sop to the religious right that is deeply unpopular elsewhere.

Romney, on the other hand, wants to make the election a referendum on the disappointing Obama presidency. He knows the election won’t be won on his platform but on how many voters who previously backed Obama will continue to do so during a bleak jobless “recovery”.

That is why Romney picked arch-conservative Paul Ryan as his running mate. His plan is to increase the turnout of his own right wing base.

But both campaigns have ignored the candidates’ major similarities. On foreign policy the two parties march in lockstep.

Obama criticised Romney’s regressive proposal to cut taxes—but in 2010 the Democrats extended George Bush’s temporary tax breaks for the rich. Obama won’t think of raising the 35 percent top income tax rate. It was 70 percent under Richard Nixon.

Romney’s campaign may be counting on the many states with new voter ID rules, earlier poll closings in urban areas and the importance of campaign funding. The total spent on the election by both sides is expected to top £2?billion.


Looming behind all this is the economy. The US has not regained even half of the jobs lost in the recession, and these are mostly at lower wages. Home repossessions continue.

Conventionally, no president would be expected to win a second term in this economic environment. The fact that Obama is even slightly ahead shows how little most people are buying Romney’s alternative.

But after demonstrating against his policies for years, people in anti-war groups are split on the Obama campaign. Most who supported him last time will still reluctantly vote for him. But most of those who actively campaigned for him in 2008 will not do so again.

The core organisers of Occupy Wall Street are more likely to see Democrats and Republicans as part of a system they want nothing to do with. But fear of the Republican platform is enough to push many in its periphery to vote.

Filmmaker Michael Moore criticised Obama on the war and the economy. He is now urging his readers to “do something every day for the next 60 days to get people out to vote” against Romney.

The election is narrowing the public debate. There is a chain in official politics that goes from the Tea Party to mainstream Republicans to the Democrats to their left wing supporters. Each is pulled one step to the right.

Yet at the same time ordinary people are moving in the other direction. Occupy activists are right to insist on the bigger picture, but it is important they do not write off the many sincere Obama voters.

These arguments will be important when the battles continue after the election—no matter who’s president.

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