Given the avalanche of mudslinging in the presidential race, voters can easily forget that both President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have positive stories to tell about themselves and their records.
For President Obama, it includes ending the war in Iraq, which seemed like mission impossible when he took office. It includes beginning the wind-down of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan that began when today’s high school seniors entered first grade. He made a gutsy call to get Osama bin Laden.
Saving the car industry was an equally tough call, and a good one. And the much-maligned Affordable Care Act ensures that Americans won’t go broke just because they get sick. He found two well-qualified women for the Supreme Court and got them confirmed without too much fuss.
No one’s happy with the pace of the recovery, but the president deserves credit for starting to turn the economy around. Instead of losing 800,000 jobs a month, workplaces have added some five million jobs. Winning cooperation from Congress would have yielded better results, though it must be said that Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader whose stated priority is to send Mr. Obama packing, is no one’s idea of a great dance partner.
Similarly, Gov. Romney has an affirmative record to run on. His success in the business world is undeniable. Rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics demonstrated the kind of tough-minded competence it will take to fix this nation’s finances.
As governor, he worked with Democrats to close a budget deficit of $3 billion without raising taxes or borrowing money. He passed a model healthcare reform program and burnished his bipartisan credentials by inviting Ted Kennedy, the U.S. Senate’s leading liberal, to share the spotlight at the signing ceremony.
That’s the good Romney, the one we had in mind when we noted favorably earlier this year that he was the closest thing in the Florida primary to a mainstream candidate.
He went on to win that race, but in the ensuing primaries he tacked so far to the right that at one point he managed to paint Texas Gov. Rick Perry — a hardline conservative by anyone’s definition — as a bleeding heart because of his more enlightened stance on immigration. Goodbye, Mr. Moderate. Hello, Mr. Severe Conservative.
Voters rightly complain that they don’t know what the candidates would do in office. Both the president and the former governor are big on rhetoric and stingy on details. But for Mr. Romney, the problem goes deeper, raising doubts about what he stands for and what he believes.
He has taken so many contradictory positions on important issues — abortion, immigration, even Obamacare (first he said he would repeal it; then he said he would keep the parts most people like) — that he could take any action he chooses once in office and claim that it fulfills a campaign promise he made at one point or another. He has run on his record, and he has run from his record.
That’s not an issue for the president. Not all Americans like what he stands for, but they know who he is. He has championed the middle class and has a larger, more tolerant notion of America that includes closing the inequality gap and evening the playing field, as exemplified by making an equal-pay-for-women bill the first law he signed. He has fought for the DREAM Act on behalf of the immigrant youths brought here by their parents, and he wants a Supreme Court that will continue to support Roe v. Wade. That’s crucial.