August 15th, 2012 // 8:08 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(And a proposal for a Cable TV Debate between Barack Obama and Paul Ryan)
This is rare in modern times.
The norm has been for Republican candidates to stay centrist—this pattern was followed by Bush, Dole, Bush and McCain.
Not since the Reagan-Carter contest have we seen a true Choice Election, where the sides are clearly divided and both passionately appeal to their base instead of tacking to the center.
Senator McCain may have attempted to create a Choice Election in 2008 with his selection of Governor Palin as running mate, but it appears Ryan’s fiscal conservatism may resonate more with independent voters than Palin’s social conservatism.
Romney’s choice also signaled two departures from his campaign to date.
First, it was bold and risky, which hasn’t been his m/o so far in this election.
Second, it was a significant move toward a big, overarching vision of American greatness.
The Romney message isn’t yet Reaganesque, but it seems to be at least trying to head in that direction.
Ryan’s budget proposals in the past few years have made him a controversial figure, and his inclusion on the ticket may signal that Romney has decided to go all in.
The choice couldn’t be clearer: The Obama/Biden message is that an increasing number of people are dependent on government, and that Washington simply can’t let them down—therefore, it must raise taxes on the rich and increase regulation on business.
If it wins, it will finally be able to do this on the grand scale, in the U.S. and internationally.
This worldview considers government the arbiter of fairness and often feels that government jobs are more honorable than those in private enterprise.
The Romney/Ryan view is precisely the opposite: Free enterprise is the hope of the future and America needs to rekindle its belief in limited government spending, minimal regulation, and a more business-friendly environment that encourages private-sector economic growth.
This agenda affirms that Washington has a spending problem, and that government’s immediate focus must be getting our financial house in order and incentivizing business growth.
The common wisdom on the Right is that our nation is on the verge of significant decline, and that major financial and policy changes in Washington are desperately needed.
The Left generally feels that our economic struggles were brought on by weak government policies that allowed the “haves” to exploit the “have nots,” that far too many people are hurting right now, and that only government stands between them and even more widespread failure.
Here is how this all plays out.
Most conservatives will vote Republican, and most progressives will support the Democratic ticket.
As we’ve discussed in the past, the election will be determined by independent voters in the battleground states.
But the fact that this is now a true Choice election puts a different spin on the vote.
If independent voters in the swing states see America at a crossroads, on the verge of serious decline and in need of big, difficult changes to reboot our economy, create huge private-sector growth and compete with China, the Republican ticket will win.
Romney was clearly banking on this when he selected Ryan as his partner.
But if swing voters think the ideas of decline and a looming major financial emergency are overblown, they’ll opt for another four years of President Obama.
Most voters—Republican, Democrat and swing—generally support getting our fiscal house in order, but they don’t want to give up any specific government programs that benefit them directly (e.g. entitlement changes).
A Choice Election is emerging on two fronts.
First, as mentioned, one side wants to increase the size and scope of government to help more people in need, while the other promises to reduce spending, taxes, regulation and effectively revive the economy (whether it will actually do so once in office is a different topic).
Secondly, Republicans see an American electorate ready to take drastic steps in the face of imminent decline and the threat of our nation going broke, even as Democrats are betting that people are more concerned with maintaining their government benefits.
In short, one side sees Paul Ryan as an excellent choice and the other thinks Romney has made a fatal (if welcome) mistake with this selection.
The choice is stark, and only time will tell how independents in the swing states actually vote.
So far the Obama campaign has played the small game, focusing on Romney’s tax returns, offshore accounts, and attacks on his work at Bain, and now criticizing details of Ryan’s budgets.
Romney has opened a big issue campaign, and he will likely escalate with a full-blown vision of American greatness.
But Barack Obama has proven to be an able politician with an uncanny sense of timing, and savvy Americans expect his Carteresque tactics to evolve into a Clintonian crescendo in the weeks ahead.
President Obama frequently seems to bumble along, only to strike with a lightening success in things like passing Obamacare, taking out bin Laden, or making unexpected announcements that win him the loyalty of various groups from immigrants to women to supporters of same-sex marriage.
Expect at least two Obama surprises before November 6.
Indeed, three or four wouldn’t be shocking.
If Romney waits around and reacts to such surprises, he’ll get stuck on the defensive.
To win, the Republican ticket needs to go big, really big, as quickly as possible.
And neither side can afford to let the debates determine their momentum.
Frankly, I think I speak for most political watchers when I say there should be an Obama-Ryan debate.
It would be a top seller on Pay-For-View.
Charge $29.95 per watcher, have Chuck Norris and George Clooney moderate the event, and apply the profits to paying down the national debt.
The band One Direction can open for each debate, thus ensuring that nearly every home in America with young girls signs up and reduces our deficit.
Better still, hold three such debates Lincoln-Douglass style in the most contested battleground states.
Then have a fourth swing-state debate where Obama and Romney face off and we measure them against each other as the leaders of our future.
This last event will be high drama after the guaranteed fireworks of the first three.
This election is still up for grabs, but it is a very different election than appeared to be shaping up last spring.
The Supreme Court decision on Obamacare and now the Ryan selection have made it a real Choice, and an American crossroads is certainly ahead.
Whatever your political views, the stakes could hardly be higher.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.