Economic problems and prescriptions predominate in the campaign as the American economy continues to be sluggish and unemployment stubbornly exceeds 8% in a country that prides itself on innovation and job creation.
The debate pits liberals against conservatives. Liberals stress a government role in regulating economic activity and redistributing resources to poorer social sectors. Conservatives oppose excessive government regulation over business, arguing that high taxation stifles entrepreneurship and growth by making the economy uncompetitive.
President Barack Obama spent billions of dollars to salvage the banking system and automobile industry, thus saving thousands of jobs. Romney contends that these massive bailouts and other government spending has significantly raised the national debt and a future generation will experience drastic cuts in living standards to service the debt.
Disputes rage over the correct mix between government regulation and business incentive and whether more urgent action is needed to cut budget deficits and reduce the national debt that has now exceeded $16 trillion.
Paul Ryan, the Budget Committee Chairman in the U.S. House of Representatives, has voiced his own recommendations to reduce federal spending and the expanding national debt. His choice as Romney's running mate is intended to achieve two objectives: to focus the election campaign on fiscal responsibility and to win votes in the American heartland as Ryan is a conservative Catholic.
Republicans calculate that Ryan’s nomination will highlight the differences between Obama’s allegedly irresponsible spending plans and Romney’s focus on cutting deficits while stimulating business. Ryan’s budget plan would transform Medicare and Medicaid, two of the most expensive federal budget items, from a government-run program to one that gives pensioners a choice to purchase health insurance from private insurers.
Democrats assert that this will force people to pay more for health care and depict the Republicans as out of touch with ordinary voters while favoring the wealthy through new tax benefits without stimulating the economy and creating jobs. Republicans point out that reforming government entitlements is essential to reduce the deficit and the national debt or the financial consequences will prove devastating over the coming years.
Whenever foreign affairs and security policy are raised in the election campaign, Obama will claim that he is responsible for several significant successes, especially in killing Osama bin Laden and evacuating U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Romney has little experience in foreign affairs and needs to convince voters that he can be more effective than the President. Obama depicts Romney as amateurish and provocative in his foreign policy pronouncements, while Romney paints Obama as weak on national defense and insufficiently tough with dictatorships.
Romney is critical of the White House for allegedly neglecting Israeli security, maintaining warm relations with Russia while Moscow bullies its neighbors, not paying sufficient attention to its European allies, and weakening American influence around the world.
Obama’s team has defended the President by claiming that Romney is too aggressive and does not understand the complexities ofinternational politics. To frighten voters, Romney will also be painted as a replica of George W. Bush who will purportedly draw the country into fresh military missions overseas. Romney's tough stance on Iran and its nuclear weapons program will be used to portray him as a maverick who will drag the U.S. into another protracted and expensive war in the Middle East.
The Obama administration generally scores high marks on security issues from the American public and Democrats are no longer perceived as weaker on national defense than the Republicans. Romney will seek to reverse these perceptions by depicting Obama as detached from America’s allies and too close to its traditional adversaries, such as Russia and China.
However, the President will only be seriously questioned on foreign policy if a crisis erupts during the campaign in a region where the U.S. possesses vital strategic interests. Otherwise, American voters will base their decisions on who they believe will be the most
credible candidate in reviving the moribund economy.
This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 114, published 17 September 2012.