The charisma, sense of history and giddy hope that propelled Barack Obama’s run in 2008 seem long gone, but even the faded memory of those days still has more dazzle than Mitt Romney’s dull campaign of pandering and negativity. The fact that the president seems to be holding a narrow lead in the presidential race is testimony to the stilted shallowness of Romney’s candidacy.
Obama really should be in big trouble. The economy continues to limp along with more gloom than sunshine on the horizon. His landmark legislative achievement, the healthcare act, is misunderstood and controversial. His foreign policy successes do not count for much in a time when Americans are looking inward. His greatest accomplishment – keeping the American economy from going over a cliff back in 2009 – cannot be easily appreciated, since, when calamity is avoided, it is hard to explain to restive voters just how much worse it could have been.
The most passionate voters are on the Republican side among the tea party activists and social issues voters. And Republicans have a cadre of billionaire donors with bottomless resources who are funding the Romney campaign and an array of conservative super PACs. They have effectively negated the incumbent president’s traditional advantage in fundraising.
Clearly, Obama would be doing much worse if he faced a more appealing opponent. No one but Romney's loyal wife is all that crazy about poor Mitt, while Obama is still well liked by a majority of voters. That gives Obama a small advantage. Ironically, though, it may be the folks who detest him and invest in him all their fears who actually are giving him even more of a boost. When middle-of-the-road voters hear the right-wing, paranoid talk about a president they have gotten to know as, if nothing else, a calm, decent family man, they may be inclined to put aside their disappointments with Obama’s first term and give him another four years rather than reward Romney who continues to cater to the crazies.
Despite what swing voters might glean from the histrionics of Rick Santorum and the vicious mendacity of Rush Limbaugh, they know America will not become an oppressive socialist nanny state if Barack Obama wins reelection. The fact is, rather than being a radical, most of Obama’s policies are squarely in the Republican tradition of Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford. Obama is more Nelson Rockefeller than Nelson Mandela.
Not so long ago, several of the political positions Obama now holds were part of the platform of a certain Massachusetts politician named Mitt Romney. Romney may now refute those ideas, but before he changed his mind on healthcare, abortion, gay rights and immigration, no one called Romney a socialist; they called him a moderate.
The president looks far left to conservative Republicans only because they have moved so far right – or, more precisely, so far back in time. They have reverted to an older GOP philosophy – the slavish devotion to wealthy business interests of William McKinley and Warren G. Harding. They have paired that with a fundamentalist religious outlook that used to be found more commonly in backwoods tent revivals and the musty corners of pre-Vatican II Catholicism.
So far, Obama’s campaign has been all big-spending political hardball and very little inspiration. In that, it is a mirror image of Romney’s campaign. Sadly, the presidential race may not get much more edifying in the three months remaining. As a result, if Obama wins this, it will not be because voters endorse or even understand his vision of the future. Rather, it will be because they do not want to revisit the past with Mitt Romney and his backward-looking party.