Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

Time for a presidential campaign experiment

We got our first real glimpse this week of how President Barack Obama and his now-almost-certain Republican rival, Mitt Romney, intend to wage their campaigns in the lead-up to the general election.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama painted Romney as an out-of-touch patrician who doesn't care much about the troubles of hardworking people low on the income ladder. Romney soon fired back, painting Obama as an out-of-touch liberal who doesn't care much about the struggles of honest businessmen who want to create jobs.

Obama accused Romney and his party of pursuing "social Darwinism," of scheming to protect unscrupulous lenders from regulation. Romney accused Obama of "vilifying success" and of prolonging the recession with "an antibusiness, anti-investment, antijobs agenda."

Romney blamed Obama for high gas prices. Obama accused Romney of being in the pocket of "Big Oil."

Obama accused Romney of plotting "to end Medicare as we know it." Romney accused Obama of "taking steps that would end Medicare as we know it."

So much for a bracing competition of ideas.

Both candidates clearly believe that the Republican primary campaign is over, and that the way to win in November is to go negative — early and often.

Until this week, Romney had to focus much of his attention on his flagging rivals for the nomination. No longer. Now, Romney wants to talk only about Obama. And Obama clearly intends to give as good as he gets.

Romney, not surprisingly, would like to make the election a referendum on Obama's performance during his first four years.

The Obama campaign wants the election focused on the stark choice between two parties rather than on the record of the last four years. And that's why the president is jumping in early to try to define Romney as ultraconservative in the eyes of independent and undecided voters.

The president's strategy is to tie Romney to some of the nation's most unpopular Republican politicians: the tea party conservatives in the House of Representatives and their draconian budget, "a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal."

What was depressing about the two men's speeches this week was not only their hyperbolic negativity, but also how empty they were of ideas for solving the nation's problems. Both men were passionate, but mostly about the mortal dangers of electing the other guy.

These were generic, partisan speeches designed to do one thing: energize each party's base. Obama cast himself as the defender of the social safety net against predatory plutocrats; Romney would have us believe he's the last line of defense against socialists determined to destroy free enterprise.

That suggests that we are heading toward a campaign that will take us right back to 2004. It was a campaign in which each party spent most of its energy trying to propel its bitterest partisans to the polls, and not much time trying to build a broader coalition that might span the center. The result was a narrow re-election for President George Bush, but not much of a mandate for anything he wanted to do in his second term, as he quickly discovered in 2005, when he tried to reform Social Security and failed.

There is an alternative, though, and Obama and Romney both still have six months to try it: They could step out of their comfort zones and address issues that don't fit so neatly into partisan talking points.

Obama could talk, for example, about how he might push his own party to get more serious about deficit reduction, including cuts in the growth of spending on Social Security and Medicare. Romney could explain which domestic programs he would cancel and which ones he would save and which tax breaks he would eliminate as part of tax reform.

It's a risky course for either one, because addressing those tough issues is unlikely to draw cheers from the party faithful. But it would give the next president — whoever he turns out to be — a head start toward actually getting something done.

© 2012 Los Angeles Times

Comments
Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Editorial: Candor key step to restoring trust at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute

Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital has begun the important work of rebuilding trust with its patients and the community following revelations of medical errors and other problems at its Heart Institute. CEO Dr. Jonathan Ellen candidly acknowledges...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Editorial: Tampa Bay House members fail to stand up to Big Sugar

Big Sugar remains king in Florida. Just three of the state’s 27 House members voted for an amendment to the farm bill late Thursday that would have started unwinding the needless government supports for sugar that gouge taxpayers. Predictably, the am...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/18/18
Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

Editorial: A sweet note for the Florida Orchestra’s violin program for at-risk kids

This is music to the ears. Members of the Florida Orchestra will introduce at-risk students to the violin this summer at some Hillsborough recreation centers. For free.An $80,000 grant to the University Area Community Development Corp. will pay for s...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

Trump backs off China tariff threat as China pumps money into a Trump family project

In barely six weeks, President Donald Trump has gone from threatening to impose $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods to extending a lifeline to ZTE, a Chinese cell phone company that violated U.S. sanctions by doing business with Iran and North K...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Editorial: Activism as seniors helps put Hillsborough graduates on the right path

Lots of teenagers are walking together this week in Hillsborough County, a practice they’ve grown accustomed to during this remarkable school year.We can only hope they keep walking for the rest of their lives.Tens of thousands of them this week are ...
Published: 05/17/18
Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Editorial: Bondi holds drug industry accountable for Florida opioid crisis

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawsuit against the nation’s largest drug makers and distributors marks a moment of awakening in the state’s battle to recover from the opioid crisis. In blunt, forceful language, Bondi accuses these companies of ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

Editorial: Johns Hopkins All Children’s should be more open about mistakes

A state investigation raises even more concern about medical errors at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the venerable St. Petersburg institution’s lack of candor to the community. Regulators have determined the hospital broke Florida law by ...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

Editorial: St. Petersburg recycling worth the effort despite cost issues

St. Petersburg’s 3-year-old recycling program has reached an undesirable tipping point, with operating costs exceeding the income from selling the recyclable materials. The shift is driven by falling commodity prices and new policies in China that cu...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Editorial: HUD’s flawed plan to raise rents on poor people

Housing Secretary Ben Carson has a surefire way to reduce the waiting lists for public housing: Charge more to people who already live there. Hitting a family living in poverty with rent increases of $100 or more a month would force more people onto ...
Published: 05/15/18
Updated: 05/18/18