By Andrew Canfield, US Daily Review Contributor
Listing ways the Obama administration has been a net minus for American liberty is not a challenging task. Even many in the president’s party acknowledge a record riddled with glaring deficiencies that gives the GOP great hope for 2012. However, this sort of Republican victory will only materialize if they avoid the pitfalls that prevented Democrats from ousting Bush in 2004 and stopped their own party from defeating Bill Clinton in 1996.
These re-election years saw the opposition party overestimate the role of antagonism in ultimately bringing about victory. The mid to late 1990’s GOP picked up Clinton-bashing as a sport, showing a personal disdain that turned off large numbers of Americans outside the talk radio echo chamber. This explained his re-election and strong approval ratings despite impeachment and near removal from office. Moderates and independents were appalled by the personal nature of the attacks leveled on Clinton, rallying behind him during the final years of his administration. What was intended to destroy the Clinton presidency ending up bringing to his aid many Americans who otherwise would have camped out on the sidelines.
Suspicion that the anti-Clinton rhetoric was based more on partisanship than philosophical objection was confirmed in the minds of many when Republicans remained silent as the state expanded more under the leader they elected than it did under the “liberalism” of Clinton. Sure, the Republican Congress and ensuing gridlock accounted for some of this, but party loyalty and disgust over a Democratic president, not dedication to constitutionalism and restraint, appeared to dictate opposition to policy.
In 2004, Democrats hoped to ride the acrimony their base held toward President Bush into the Oval Office. This attempt also fell short, demonstrating the ill-advised nature of crafting an election strategy around contempt for a man instead of well-articulated assessments of policy. Critiquing a president’s ideas can be an excellent driver of foot traffic to the polls, but bashing a flesh and blood individual alienates fair-minded voters not wrapped up in the left/right paradigm. When it does not appear to be genuine, the sniping of of elected and unelected partisans prevents angles of attack from being skillfully played during a presidential election.
Not only are these tactics distasteful and ultimately an unsuccessful formula for victory, it deprives the electorate of the robust debate, which would otherwise occur absent party-based bomb throwing. Both parties adopt similar methods, with one falling back on accusations of racism and the other preferring to accuse their opponents of anti-Americanism. Such accusations have lost all meaning, and are wearing thin with the American public. A growing number of conservatives and the broader American public are hungering for independent political thought, holding out hope for candidates willing to look at the entire forest instead of a single tree. Candidate bashing and blatant about faces have left much of the electorate deeply cynical toward the American system of government, a fact many of us could attest to anecdotally while confirming statistically.
The frame of national debate has become so constricted that it seems a stretch to expect a campaign featuring principled statesman abstaining from stale talking points and lines of attack. One must wonder if being incapable of formulating an independent thought and an unwillingness to even remotely question conventional wisdom are prerequisites for being elected commander in chief.
Watering down substantive arguments to focus on destructive personal attacks has led to candidates downplaying issues that fail to fire up their respective base. Americans once vigorously debated the benefits of a gold standard, treasured civil liberties, and emphasized restrained overseas policies; vital issues are now approached around the margins, if at all. Allowing emotions to dictate elections has made America’s claim as a truly free society increasingly tenuous with each passing year, leading to election seasons defined by sound bite snippets and not thoughtful debate. A nation hoping to maintain a free market of ideas will not remain that way if reflexive partisanship, not intellectual honesty, is the characteristic looked for by voters.
Andrew Canfield is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and a resident of Bossier City, Louisiana. He is the community relations director at a property management company and enjoys writing for the local newspaper and fitness web sites in his spare time. Andrew is a fan of outdoor activities, and loves running and cycling in his spare time. His favorite economic author is F.A. Hayek, and he considers himself a libertarian Republican.