In Praise of Our Small and Dull Campaign

by Alec MacGillis | August 1, 2012

If there’s one thing politicos across the spectrum can agree on these days, it’s that the 2012 campaign is awfully “small.” In today’s Washington Times, Charlie Hurt slapped the s-word on President Obama, who has “become like an old, washed-up rock star, playing to small and smaller crowds but never quite able to get that old magic back.” We had Obama himself, in his comments on the Aurora, Colo. shootings, making what was surely a thinly veiled reference to the tit-for-tats of the campaign: “What matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial thing.” And we had the most heart-wrenching lament about smallness from, of course, our leading tribune of Hamiltonian bigness, who provided a whole list of reasons why this is the “dullest campaign ever,” including “intellectual stagnation,” “lack of intellectual innovation” (apparently different than intellectual stagnation), and a “lack of serious policy proposals”: 

Has there ever been a campaign with so few major plans on the table? President Obama’s proposals are small and medium-size retreads, while Mitt Romney has run the closest thing to a policy-free race as any candidate in my lifetime. Republicans spend their days fleshing out proposals, which Romney decides not to champion.

Now, I’m generally ready to hop on an it-was-better-in-the-old-days bandwagon. But in this case, I’m not buying it. How can this election be considered small, given the obvious stakes? The outcome is going to determine the shape of the American tax code for the next decade or more; whether or not some 30 million people obtain health coverage; and, quite possibly, whether we find ourselves embroiled in a conflict with Iran, to name only the most obvious points. One reason the campaigns may be putting out so few proposals for us to pore over is that the contrasting programs and philosophies are already so plain even without white papers scratched out by busy-beaver campaign advisers. Even the 24-hour kerfuffles that have consumed so much of the attention in recent weeks -- Romney’s Bain Capital tenure, “you didn’t build that,” etc.—have mostly tapped into the broader questions at stake, most notably the proper balance between government and unfettered capitalism. It’s true that the scale of the choice does leave us without a lot of the second-order argument and distinctions that we might have distracted ourselves with in past campaign years. But here’s a crazy idea: instead of lamenting the absence of those stories, why not simply take the opportunity provided by a race as starkly-ordered and static as this one and, you know, stop dwelling on it every day until November? No one is forcing us political reporters to spend the entire election year in permanent-campaign mode. So if you’re bored by this race, why not bust out of it? We have nothing to lose but our chains. And, who knows, we might just find something else in this country of 312 million people to write and talk about.

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Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//article/105652/alec-macgillis-praise-our-small-and-dull-campaign