Team Blog

Is it Obama versus Romney, or Obama versus the economy?

Former president Bill Clinton’s address was a highlight of last week’s Democratic National Convention. EPA/Tannen Maury

Now that the conventions are done, we can confidently draw a few conclusions about the race. One, we won’t be seeing much more of Clint Eastwood. Two, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Bill Clinton, who showed that he’s by far the best politician in America. His speech to the Democratic Convention was detailed without being boring and combative without being aggressive. He also gave Obama the best line that he has. Americans, please understand that the economic mess we inherited was so large that it’s going to take us eight years, not four, to clean it up.

What also seems clear is that this is not a race between Obama and Romney. It’s really a race between Obama and the jobs market. Most of the momentum from North Carolina was undone by the poor employment figures, which showed more and more Americans giving up on finding a job. This I think is likely to be the rhythm of the campaign – Obama inching ahead, but then being pulled back by poor news on the economic front.

That said, I’ll be watching the following in the run to November for the Conversation’s election blog:

  1. Can Romney exploit the opening provided by a sluggish economy? At the moment, you would say not. Has there been a weaker Republican challenger? Forget about the lack of charisma, the political tin ear, the whiff of financial impropriety. This is a man running for public office who has no public record on which to stand. His time as governor of Massachusetts is of no use at all, because he has now repudiated most of the policies – on taxes, on healthcare, on abortion – that he advocated then.

  2. Might we see a genuine clash of ideas? A naïve hope, I admit. But there are some signs of an ideological battle over the role of the State. In his acceptance speech, Obama gave us a hint of the New Deal. He evoked “the bold, persistent experimentation that Franklin Roosevelt pursued” in the 1930s. On the other side, the Republican vice-Presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, has spoken openly about cutting into Medicare, which provides millions of Americans with subsidised health care. Economists agree that Medicare needs reform, but it’s one of the most beloved government programs. It’s so popular than even many Tea Partiers bristle at the idea of cuts to their Medicare entitlements. But Ryan is defiant: “This debate about Medicare is a debate we want, it’s a debate we’re going to have and it’s a debate we’re going to win”. How far will the Republicans go in their crusade against big government? And how far will Obama go in its defence?

  3. Where will the religious cards fall? There is something novel about the religious dynamic of this race. On the Republican side, we have a Mormon/Catholic ticket (let’s forget for a moment Paul Ryan’s other devotion to Ayn Rand, a freethinker who once described faith as the “worst curse of mankind”). On the Democratic side, one of the most curious moments at the Convention was the closing benediction by Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. Dolan sprinkled his prayer for Divine guidance with an explicit attack on abortion. Nothing unusual there. But this came at the end of a convention in which a host of key Democrats, from Obama down, had openly expressed their support for women’s reproductive choices. One of the speakers was Cecile Richards, the President of Planned Parenthood. Oh, and Cardinal Dolan also gave the benediction at the Republican Convention. Catholics may not be the only religiously-minded Americans feeling confused in this election.