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Altered Consciousness: Candidates need to keep it real

Published: March 2, 2012
Section: Opinions


One of the trends that I’ve noticed in regard to the 2012 presidential race is the constant attempts by both the Republican candidates and President Obama to portray themselves in an ideal, and it seems, unattainable and unrealistic light.

For Republicans, this ideal would be a conservative with a clear and consistent conviction on social, fiscal and national security policy. This conservative would never have held liberal, or even moderate, views on any major issues, and he would emphasize the importance of principle and values more than compromise and pragmatism. He would never have served in Washington; would be untainted by association with lobbyists or special interest groups; and would run in opposition to the Washington “establishment,” insiders in Congress, the media, the party apparatus and other organizations. He would have experience and a proven track record in the private sector and perhaps will have spent a limited time in local government. Finally, he would have the charisma necessary to inspire the base and embolden his supporters.

Each of the four remaining Republican candidates has sought to convince the primary electorate that he matches this archetype perfectly, yet cannot do so credibly.

Mitt Romney wins points because he’s a businessman who has never served in Washington. In many ways, he is the antithesis of the conservative ideal. He has been running for president essentially for six years now. He has changed a number of his previously-held beliefs, garnering the moniker of flip-flopper and the accusation that he lacks a core. He fails to enthuse voters who may perceive him as out-of-touch and distant.

The other candidates suffer similar problems. Despite his prominent social conservatism, Rick Santorum—as the last debate plainly illustrated—is a typical Bush-era Republican who supported the expansion of government on a number of fronts and seems too sympathetic to labor interests. Newt Gingrich, contrary to what his rhetoric may suggest, is the quintessential Washington insider who has served as a Congressman then lobbyist for more than 30 years.

Ron Paul may be the closest fit in relation to the conservative ideal. His isolationist foreign policy views, age and underwhelming presentation, however, are flaws that undercut such an advantage.
President Obama seems to be in a similar state of cognitive dissonance. Obama seeks to return to the image that he presented during his 2008 campaign: an outsider who embodies hope, change, promise, optimism, and an end to polarization, division and partisan warfare. The fact that he has been at the epicenter of Washington politics for the last three years, that the economy still is struggling, that Republicans and Democrats are at each other’s throats and that he has in fact adopted many of President Bush’s policies as his own, particularly on the national security front, all go against these themes. Furthermore, seeing as how he can’t run on his own record, he will have no choice but to employ extremely negative campaign tactics in the general election.
My ultimate message to the candidates is enough already: Stop presenting yourself as something that you clearly are not. Recognize the reality of the situation as well as your own limitations and flaws, in addition to your strengths. The voters, most of whom are already sick and tired of this election cycle, would appreciate the honesty and sincerity.

So, for instance, if you are in fact a creature of Washington, admit it and then turn this bit of experience into a positive. Alternatively, if you are actually a moderate in your views and disposition, don’t say you are a die-hard or “severe” conservative. If you believe that you can convince Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, then surely you can persuade voters that you can win the election based on your own merit without obscuring the truth.

This would be a positive first step in making this election a bit more bearable for the average voter.