January 02, 2012

Election 2012. Obama vs. Romney?

After the American Century

While it is too soon be be certain, it looks like the 2012 election will be a contest between Romney and Obama. It might be that yet another Republican challenger will arise tomorrow, but time is running out for that scenario. Gingrich's star continues to fall. Ron Paul's is rising, but he is too far Right for most voters. Romney is what the GOP seems to have left, though it will likely take at least a month, more likely two months, to establish this for certain. So, what are the differences between these men?

Both Obama and Romney attended Harvard Law School and there are some similarities. But on the whole it stacks up as a clear choice between quite different kinds of men.

Both men have long been married to the same women. (Note, however, that on Romney's father's side there were six polygamous men, with a total of 41 wives.) Both graduated near the top of their respective class at Harvard Law School. Both are more centrist than their parties, and both, therefore will have some problems igniting the energies of the more extreme elements of their "base". Both achieved considerable wealth early in life, more in the case of Romney. Both see themselves as outsiders in Washington.

Romney's father, George, was first an automobile executive in Michigan and a Republican governor in that state. He later ran unsuccessfully in Republican presidential primaries. Mitt has followed the same pattern, starting in business at Bain Capital, then moving to the statehouse, in his case as governor of Massachusetts. Like Obama he ran as an outsider in the 2008 primaries. He made himself better known, but early had to admit that he was not going to get the nomination. He threw his support to McCain. Romney has essentially remained a candidate for president throughout the first Obama term.

Obama did not have a father at home to imitate or to assist him. He achieved his way into one of the best universities and Harvard Law School, where he became editor of the law review. He could easily have gone into corprorate law and made a great deal of money. Instead, he worked as a community organizer in Chicago, taught law, and went tinto Illinois State politics. He also proved to be an excellent writer, with two best-selling books, which helped to propel him into the Senate and the White House.

Economic Theory
Romney, as his business background would suggest, wants to minimize regulation from the government and thinks private enterprise can solve most problems. He is Chicago School and wants to balance the budget. Romney also has a degree from Harvard Business School, and made a fortune working in the private sector. Obama, who taught Constitutional Law at the University of Chicago, is more a Keynsian, and not nearly so wealthy. 

Abortion: Multiple Choice  vs.   Pro Choice
Romney was pro choice when running for governor in Massachusetts, but moved decisively to the right in recent years. Hehas mockingly been called the "multiple choice" candidate, because his views shift on issues. Obama has been consistently pro-choice.

Medical Care
Romney pushed a comprehensive law through the Massachusetts State House that created a health care system quite similar to that Obama and the Democrats created a few years later. However, Romney has consistently attacked the Obama program, again moving well to the right on this issue.

Romney's Mormanism is definitely a liability, it being more crucial to be mainstream Protestant for a Republican than for a Democratic candidate.

Foreign Policy
Romney sounds more agressive and hawkish than Obama, who has, however, continued many of Bush's foreign policies, not least in the Middle East. The differences are there, but the American public is focused on domestic issues, particularly the economy. The election will only be about foreign policy if there is a major crisis.

Obama very much had it in 2008, but he is no longer the unquestioned darling of the Left, which has found him too much a centrist on many issues. But Obama remains a formidable speaker, with rhetorical gifts that Romney cannot match. Romney has never been accused of having charisma, quite the opposite. He fails not only to ignite the passions of the right-wing Republican base but also to excite moderates listening to his speeches. In one-on-one situations Romney can be stiff and uncompromising. He seems to lack empathy for people who are not like himself. Obama does better with small groups, in most cases.

Campaign Spending
Both men will spend lavishly on this election, which will almost certainly become an orgy of advertising, much of it funded by outside groups and corporations who are "independent" of the candidate they support. However, because so much money will be used, there may be a backlash against it, especially with unemployment over 8.5%.

If voters cannot decide between two candidates, they often ask themselves, "Which of these two would I rather have a couple of beers with?"  This will not be Romney's strong suit, and I think Obama gets an edge on that one. Otherwise, the race may well be decided by who has the more effective running-mate and by unexpected events. The polls right now suggest Obama would win by a small margin against Romney, and my sense is that this ex-governor Mormon businessman will not become more likable as voters see more of him. So much will happen between now and November, that it is too soon to predict a result, but if held today Obama would win the election, but narrowly.