Beyond the collage of literature that fills up my leisure time, I have also designated time to watching the presidential race take shape over the past several months.
October and the Romney-Obama debates are now just on the horizon. To some, America’s fate is on the line. To others, another election cycle means nothing.
But to me — with history as my minor, journalism my major, and this election a part of our nation’s history — I cannot resist casting my vote.
In spite of the enthusiasm I have for the political process, it was embarrassing to watch the National Republican Convention in late August, followed closely by the Democratic Party’s equivalent. Those two weeks revealed a lot about the nature of each party, and at the same time told us nothing about what we should expect from either candidate in the White House.
It is a hard fact for first-time voters to digest. Our decision in this election is like a riddle or an equation: We can read what the politicians are saying, but choosing who we think can solve America’s problems, that is up to us.
The Republican National Convention was held in the hurricane-stricken city of Tampa, where Republicans from all over the country congregated to rally around their not-who-we-hoped-for candidate, Mitt Romney. It is fair to say that Romney does have an honest following. It is true in West Michigan, certainly (though Obama may very well win Michigan due to strong support from labor unions and other powerful demographics). It was not Mitt Romney that fired up the delegates, but rather the same anti-Obama sentiment that ignited the Republican base four years prior.
The convention was both serious and celebratory, but seldom revealed any actual projects for the future if Romney is elected president.
Aside from the relative vagueness of Romney’s prescription, here’s the issue I have with the 2012 Republican Convention. It is more than a technical error, and has serious implications about our expectations from elected officials. Many of the speakers on the stage — most of them prominent governors and congressmen (except Clint Eastwood and his empty chair) — invoked a specific, roaring response from delegates holding up signs and cheering, “We Built It!”
Let’s step back to July 13:
President Obama was on the campaign trail in Roanoke, Va., giving a speech on the importance of infrastructure to the success of business. He said, “Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.” What Obama said was neither inaccurate nor demeaning toward capitalism or the nature of American success, but his words were immediately snatched from their context and given new meaning. It was falsely interpreted that Obama believes the government’s benevolence is the only thing that generates success in America.
Republicans are regurgitating this dialogue in a way that convinces naïve voters that Obama is anti-business. The repeated chanting and brandishing of “We Built It” is a rebuttal to an argument the president never made.
At the Democratic National Convention, held in Charleston, S.C., much of what the Republicans said was reciprocated — the “failed” economic policies; praise for the health care plan as opposed to an attack on it; and the obvious avoidance of a situation neither party can politically afford to discuss during this campaign season: the war in Afghanistan.
The convention was a celebration of Obama’s first-term victories. It also served as a rally for Democratic base supporters — including minorities, gays and women. Michigan’s own former Gov. Jennifer Granholm gave a fiery speech about Obama’s auto bailout and the subsequent rejuvenation of the industry.
Former President Bill Clinton, the Democratic Party’s own “Great Communicator,” gave a long speech outlining the specifics of the Obama plan vs. the Romney plan, which served as a calmative to confused voters. Clinton accomplished what neither the Republicans nor the Democrats had done up to that point: He made sense of the real issues, leaving Obama set to deliver another eloquent, powerful speech while smoothly sidestepping the specifics.
The Democrats have a major advantage: the cushion of incumbency, and specifically, the president himself. More fortunately, they do not have Romney.
But this race is not just about the two candidates. This election is not just a choice between “Taking America Back” and moving it “Forward.” It is Shakespearian: to vote, or not to vote.
Both parties talk about “putting America back to work,” but we have another kind of work to do. First-time voters, this is your time to be political. Our votes should at least carry the weight of our knowledge on issues and policy. We need to give these candidates what they deserve: a proud, educated population.
The decision lies with all of us, because without educated voters, the nation is not in the proverbial tug-of-war match it thinks it is. Without us, America is standing still.
— Alexander Sinn is a Tribune community columnist.