Sympathy for the Undecided

Neither Candidate Has Laid Out Specifics for Voters

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By Gal Beckerman

Published October 29, 2012, issue of November 09, 2012.
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We are days away from the end of this election cycle, which also means it’s open season on that much ridiculed, mystifying yet rare species: the undecided voter. A mock commercial on “Saturday Night Live” captured the general disdain toward the folks we are repeatedly told will tip this election. In it, a series of sincere-looking citizens, the undecided, ask probing questions like, “What are the names of the two people running?” and “We hear a lot about our dependence on foreign oil, but just what is oil?”

It’s easy to dismiss these undecided voters — whoever they are — because we mostly all live in places where there’s not much question about the political preferences of our friends and family members. The choice is almost reflexive. But what if you had to decide without falling back on any prior allegiance to party? Would it be so easy to compare the two candidates’ visions for the next four years — which is, in large part, what each presidential election demands of us?

I don’t think so. I’ve got sympathy for the undecided because this election has been strikingly void of specifics, much more so than any race I can remember. It has all played out as a contest between vague and vaguer.

You’ve got President Obama, who has yet to really present any big, sweeping project for his second term. To the extent that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have divulged any of their plans, they sound instead “like rear-guard actions preserving what they see as their accomplishments,” wrote Peter Baker in The New York Times. They want to finish implementing the health care plan passed in the first term and begin taxing the very rich in order to reduce the deficit. Granted these are not small items, but they are a far cry from “that vision thing,” as a former one-term president once put it. What happened to climate change or immigration reform or improving our infrastructure?

Then there’s Mitt Romney. Though he does seem to have hit on an effective — and to my ear, credible — trope by wondering why the president hasn’t set forth any big ideas, Romney’s own proposals seem to lack any basis in reality. None. He wants to repeal and replace Obama’s health care plan. But with what? We don’t know. He will lower tax rates by 20% and offset lost revenue by eliminating loopholes and deductions. Which ones? He hasn’t said. As Baker pointed out in the Times, Romney repeated the phrase, “I know what it takes,” seven times during the second debate. To which I want to respond: “Great! Please tell us then.” But he doesn’t say. And just as the Republicans’ central complaint about Obama’s lack of vision captures a certain truth, so does the Democratic argument that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan ignore basic arithmetic.

Between these two, is it any wonder then that someone could be undecided?

Yet, still, a good citizen has to vote. And in the absence of any real clues as to the change either of these two candidates wants to effectuate, we are left with two other measures by which to judge them: ideology and record.


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