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It’s not a particularly satisfying or inspiring way to pick a president, but at least there are real substantive, identifiable differences.
On ideology, the president believes that government has a role to play both in helping to stimulate the economy and in providing a safety net for those least fortunate in society. He also has a liberal perspective when it comes to issues like women’s reproductive rights and same-sex marriage. He believes in wielding American power in a thoughtful way that doesn’t unnecessarily entangle the country in costly and bloody wars abroad.
When it comes to Romney’s ideology, it’s hard to tell what he believes. It has depended in large part on which audience he is addressing. You could say he was a small government guy, but he also practically invented the prototype for Obamacare. On abortion, you could say he’s pro-life, except he was once pro-choice. During the Republican primaries he categorically refused to state an end date for pulling out of Afghanistan, but then in the third debate, on foreign policy, he said, “When I’m president, we’ll make sure we bring our troops out by the end of 2014.” I could go on and on, on any number of core issues. Will he govern as a moderate or as a “severe conservative”? How could we know?
As for their records, it’s the same story. Obama has been an able leader over the past four years. Yes, the economy is not where he promised it would be, but he also inherited quite a mess, and by all indications — whether the housing market or the unemployment numbers — things are steadily getting better. And though he hasn’t proposed any big national program, passing the historic health care bill is proof that he has it in him to do so again.
Meanwhile, Romney refuses to be pinned down to any particular part of his biography. Up until the last weeks of the campaign, he didn’t want to talk at all about his time as Massachusetts’s governor. Then at the second debate he mentioned his decision to recruit “binders full of women” to bring gender balance to his administration (though we’ve since learned that those binders were thrust upon him). In the third debate, he boasted that under his governorship, fourth-grade math and English scores were first in the nation (though we’ve since learned that, according to the Boston Globe, a 1993 education law, in place 10 years before Romney took office, “is largely credited” with those high scores). He refers to himself as a “small businessman” but won’t offer too much detail about his time in private equity beyond saying that he created jobs (which is pretty much the opposite of what he actually did).
I wish there were a more satisfying way to pick a president. But when it comes to imagining the next four years, neither candidate has given me anything to work with. So I’ll just have to settle for what I already know.
Undecided? No. A little disaffected? Sure.