Last week, America got two more chances to hear from the Republicans vying for their party’s presidential nomination. The two debates focused on the two most pressing issues facing our next president, probably the next few presidents: the economy and foreign policy. How is America going to create jobs for the 20 million unemployed, underemployed or discouraged from even joining the labor force? How is America going to lead on a global stage marked by the rise of China, of India, of Brazil and so many others? These are serious questions, grand calls only the greatest of nations can answer.
Yet, I fail to see how those eight Republicans spoke on the issues to any real degree of seriousness. What we’ve got, it seems, is a group of men and women who don’t rise to the legacy of the 44 men who have held the Oval Office previously. As an interested observer, I’ve been analytical instead of inspired. While watching the 10 GOP debates thus far, I’ve yet to be taken aback by the command of any one of those standing behind a podium. Perhaps that’s my folly; maybe I’m naïve to wait around for a Republican Josiah Bartlet — a soaring moment amidst 90 second answers and 30 second rebuttals.
Whether I’m unrealistic, I think it’s undeniable that the political conversation in this country has gone off the rails. Americans are no longer convinced by the talking points of either side. Tax cuts are not the answer to every problem ailing us, neither is government spending allocated without prudence and intelligence. We don’t want government to be small or big, necessarily — we want it to work. Only 9 percent of us now approve of Congress, but 100 percent of us want Washington to work. As the American Dream has seemed to grow ever more elusive, our leaders have seemingly done nothing to reverse the trend — to make the changes needed for a 21st century American resurgence.
What of the 2012 election? How much “hope and change” can we expect to hear from President Obama and his opponent? Sadly, I expect little to none of that. Worse, the $4-5 billion spent on campaigns nationwide will fill our airwaves, our Google results, our Facebook pages, with “straw man” arguments and messages of division. We will hear from the candidates on the news and the televised debates next October. Maybe, they’ll visit our university for a town hall event. But I doubt they’ll give us answers that convince us they’ve got a detailed plan. “Yes We Can” isn’t enough this time. Obama’s had four years and we can agree the president’s first term was underwhelming to be charitable, but how are the GOP candidates’ ideas better? Given our choice at the top on the ballot, why should we trust them in Washington more than Obama?
There’s still time for a constructive debate. There is still time for America to have a real conversation about our future, a real barnburner of a dialogue. But, today, that seems unlikely. Rather, it seems likely that we’ll witness an election that inspires no confidence and calms no fears.