Every four years in American politics one presidential candidate or another is likely to characterize that year’s contest as “the most important election of our lifetime,” and of course that sentiment is, almost always, untrue. Nonetheless, self-important politicians imagine that the world events and domestic issues with which they must wrangle are the most grievous in history, or at least that's what they'd like voters to believe.
For this November’s general election, the "most important" moniker rings particularly hollow. While the election is shaping up to be a close race, it's not piling up the necessary political tender to catch fire and become an impassioned barnburner. Perhaps it all feels anti-climactic compared to the historic aura that surrounded the 2008 election, or maybe it's simply pre-convention summer doldrums. For whatever reason, this year’s presidential contest is showing early signs that it may be the most boring, not the most important, election of our lifetime.
Maybe it’s the choice of candidates that make this election feel like a potential snoozer.
It’s no secret that Mitt Romney has struggled to unite the Republican Party. With key policy positions that possess Gumby-like flexibility, the Republican establishment and GOP rank-and-file voters have been slow to warm to Romney. Primary turnout has been low, and while the GOP base has finally rallied around its frontrunner, they did so reluctantly, committing to Romney only after test-driving every other candidate in the market.
The caution and control Romney practices in his daily interactions with the public have enabled him to avoid any significant political pitfalls, but they have also added to his robotic demeanor and inhibited his ability to forge meaningful connections with his audience. As for Romney’s bank of engaging ideas, they sound distressingly similar to the strategies of our last Republican administration. “Yay,” cried the GOP, “more of what we used to do.”
Democrats, meanwhile, continue to be periodically inspired by President Obama, but some of his luster has most assuredly worn off. In 2008, Democrats were highly motivated by their desperate desire to discard any remnants of the Bush administration from the Oval Office and to participate in the historically significant election of the nation’s first black president. In 2012, while most Democrats would be happy to keep Obama in office, his overall approval rating of 47% indicates only modest support for the job he has done.
As for Obama himself, he’s proven to be more bold and visionary than his opponent, but he’s also incredibly savvy, and at this point, not looking to take any more political risks (i.e. new and interesting policy positions) than necessary. The President’s updated campaign slogan “Forward” doesn’t scream new ideas, as much as it firmly argues for continuation of the current direction. “Yay,” cried the Democrats, “more of what we’re already doing.”
Maybe the candidates are captivating enough, but the issues simply aren’t compelling.
Think about how benignly one side or the other has framed each of these major political issues, and consider the typical American attention span.
- Economy. The GDP and job market aren’t growing fast enough, but then again, they aren’t shrinking. Most Americans would agree that things are better. The economy is lagging, but the tailspin is over. Meh.
- Healthcare. Come on...if this article had been entitled Inherent Fallacies of Obamacare and Romney’s Ten-Pronged Healthcare Solution, would you have even clicked the link to read it? Boring.
- War. The U.S. combat mission has ended in Iraq, and the President has implemented a strategy and timeline to get troops out of Afghanistan. No arguments.
- Social Issues. The POTUS just “came out” in favor of same sex marriage, but this red meat GOP issue just doesn’t have the same flavor it used to have (even Ann and Mitt Romney probably DVR Modern Family). Birth control? Rush Limbaugh demonstrated the clear ineffectiveness of that debate, and no one wants to touch it now. Old news.
The 2012 election might just be our most mundane and boring presidential contest in decades.
Obama and Romney have each been thoroughly vetted so there is little chance a game-changing skeleton will fall (or be tossed) from anyone’s closet. Both candidates are intelligent and seasoned politicians, and neither is likely to make the kind of major gaffes that will ignite the competition’s base. Add in a host of political issues that are important, but not sexy, and you have a recipe for reasonable and polite adult discourse that will likely be absent any serious fireworks.
This year’s election process should still provide enough insight for voters to understand precisely who and essentially what they are voting for, but it may not yield enough depth, substance, or fire to really heat up the dialogue. The whole affair, while boring, may prove surprisingly refreshing in its civility, and after more than a decade of unhelpful and destructive partisan bickering, maybe that, in and of itself, should be considered accomplishment enough.