Despite public surveys that show the general public largely opposed to negative campaigning, the overwhelming majority of candidates in contested races have refined this strategy almost to an art form.
And why not? After all, many of these same polls also conclude that this type of campaigning – whereby the candidate too often distorts his or her opponent’s record while spewing venomous personal attacks – works, as seeds of doubt regarding the opponent’s fitness for office are planted in voters’ minds.
But imagine if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney discarded this strategy in favor of saying what they really think and what they offer the American people.
Under this unlikely scenario, here is what I’d like them to say. We’ll begin with President Obama:
I have been accused by some political detractors of supporting economic policies that have a distinct socialist bent.
Well, if governing with compassion by advocating the creation of a society that benefits the American people by equalizing the social status of all Americans makes me a socialist, I proudly plead guilty.
If ensuring that as many Americans as possible have the basic necessities of daily living, even at the cost of taking more from those who have made it and giving that share of the pie to those who, for whatever reason, have not, makes me a proponent of income redistribution, I will proudly wear the title of the “Robin Hood of American politics.”
If the cost of solving today’s economically challenging times is to spend beyond our means, a strategy nobody really likes but one that is sometimes necessary, then I will propose in a second term more stimulus spending and more entitlement programs. Yes, there are times in a nation’s life when the government must spend, even when resources are scarce, to protect the have-nots.
I realize that some describe this policy as an irresponsible means of spending other people’s money and mortgaging the fiscal future of the next generation. But, if reelected, I will continue my policy of deficit spending to rescue America from an economic catastrophe that I inherited from my predecessor – something I apologize for reminding you of yet again.
The protection of Social Security in its current form from insolvency and the maintaining of Medicare and Medicaid for our nation’s seniors and disabled are areas I will pay particular attention to in a second term. And if adequate resources in the national treasury are lacking to fix these impending problems, I will yet again tax the wealthy Americans among us.
And my justification for this is simple: If the ultra-conservative chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, concluded that it is within the government’s right to force one American to provide health insurance for his or her fellow American through higher taxes – as he ruled recently when the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of my universal health care legislation – then surely Congress and I can see to it that certain Americans, namely high-income earners, pay whatever is necessary to secure a better future for the most vulnerable among us.
If a judicial champion of conservatism like John Roberts says that any type of taxation can be left to the discretion of the executive and legislative branches of government, its imposition on anything those branches deem necessary to improve America’s human condition should logically be supported.
And speaking of government’s legal right to impose necessary revenue enhancers on taxpayers, government must have the same right to impose mandatory regulations – similar to my administration’s health care legislation’s rules – on businesses that unfairly profit off the backs of American workers. And my administration, in protecting workers’ rights, will determine what constitutes unfair profits and act accordingly.
My general philosophy of good government at work is this: The longstanding general business principle of putting greed over equality and profit over compassion must go by the wayside. For as President Woodrow Wilson once said, “we are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless.”
* * * * *
In the national security and foreign policy realms I will continue to punish the guilty, as my order to kill Osama bin Laden and my policy of using drones against terrorists in Pakistan has demonstrated. But my overall goal remains what it has always been: a secure international peace that will stand the test of time, through the values of decency and humaneness that made and that keeps America great.
I will execute this objective by way of my personal powers of persuasion. And I will ignore the critics of this policy, who will almost certainly accuse me of being naïve and overconfident.
My policy will be twofold. If the ingredient for success is to cajole conflicting parties with pledges of financial benefits in the form of new or additional foreign aid, I will buy alliances for the sake of a safer world. And if pressuring or threatening obstinate nations or entities – be they foes or friends – to make concessions via painful compromises builds a more secure world for future generations, I will bear the potential political consequences of an unpopular policy in the here and now.
Let’s take the Middle East, for example. While I will always defend American friends like Israel, I will be adamant in my resolve that Israel follow America’s lead in dealing with the threat posed by an Iran that seeks to become a nuclear power. I will simultaneously oblige Israel to come to terms with a contiguous Palestinian state even as I insist that Israel’s enemies end, once and for all, their belligerent policy of refusing to recognize the right of the Jews to a state of their own.
If the parties resist my efforts, I will seriously consider asking Congress to reduce or cut off economic and/or military aid. This “speak softly, and carry a big stick” method was a sound prescription for President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign and military policies in the early 20th century. It remains so today.
In sum, if leading an ever-expansive government with policies dictated by compassion rather than the bottom line makes me a socialist, and if attempting to force good behavior on nations by any means necessary makes me a bully for peace, I will wear those labels as badges of honor.
* * * * *
Now, Governor Romney:
As the capitalist candidate in this presidential campaign, I will make three points clear to the American people.
First, I make no apology for living the American dream by having earned great wealth honestly in a free-market system.
And to the critics of my successful stewardship at Bain Capital, I say this: It is sometimes necessary to make unpopular administrative decisions that negatively impact the unfortunate few for the benefit of the more fortunate many. That is a credo – crude to the bleeding heart but smart and practical to the venture capitalist – that I plan to use as my economic guiding force if I become president.
Along these lines I will encourage young people to aspire to accomplish the same dream of attaining wealth that I’ve lived. I will not punish them for their success through higher taxes solely because they outdo many of their fellow Americans in the economic sphere.
Instead, I will utilize their newfound ability to give back to this great nation that provided them the opportunity to succeed by encouraging them to create jobs and participate in a host of charitable endeavors.
I will ensure that if you play by the capitalist rules of hard work, government will help you if you fall on hard times. However, if you’re able-bodied – physically, mentally and emotionally – but expect government to support you with entitlements simply for being an American citizen, the federal government will not provide for you. At the same time, government must always preserve a stable safety net for the disabled and others unable to care for themselves. That is a moral responsibility I will always practice. I have been accused by some as being cold and calculating in my seeming fixation with the bottom line. Well, if that obsession leads to an end to the current tragic reality of more than 23 million of our fellow Americans finding themselves unemployed or underemployed, millions more losing their homes, and seemingly countless number of parents remaining unable to save for their children’s college costs and their own retirement years, then I guess I’ll have to live with being tagged as heartless.
If I am classified as unfeeling because I plan to eliminate the unfathomable $16 trillion debt through the short-term pain of reforming the broken Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs to accomplish my goal of long-term fiscal solvency, so be it.
If we are to eliminate the debt, which threatens the dollar’s value and will inevitably lead to a dangerously higher level of inflation and the stunting of economic growth and consumer spending, we must purge wasteful government spending and needless programs, thereby giving taxpayers a greater bang for their buck, and stop borrowing trillions of dollars from China and other nations at high interest rates that are suffocating us.
The most productive way to give taxpayers their rightful bang for their buck is to spend their money wisely. That entails following the same principle that responsible American families practice every day: make thoughtful spending decisions based solely – barring expenditures for an emergency – on cash availability for present and future necessities while resisting the temptation to lavishly spend money that is simply not there.
It is time for government to finally act like its citizens by balancing its checkbook. After all, does anyone think it’s fair that the federal government has the legal right to print more money – and thus permit inflation to rear its ugly head so it can bail itself out – while no individual American can lawfully do the same?
It is time for government to clean up the fiscal mess it has irresponsibly created, and not leave that unenviable task to the innocents of future generations.
And it is high time for the lending nations I just spoke about, led by China, to stop being America’s bankers. Once that happens we can formulate and implement more objective trade, foreign policy and human rights policies toward those countries. The days of being willing hostages to other countries’ agendas – agendas that are often at odds with our own nation’s agenda – must end.
If I am scorned for proposing to cut taxes for hardworking taxpayers, middle class and wealthy alike, so that consumers have the ability to spend more of their money and thus help eliminate the growing debt through the intake of more sales taxes on products created by millions of newly employed American workers, I will gladly accept that derision.
The opportunity for consumers to keep and thus spend more of their money will also be enhanced by the elimination of smothering government regulations on businesses. The fair treatment of American consumers is paramount – but not at the expense of unnecessary government intrusion into the marketplace.
Couple my tax-cutting plans for individual taxpayers with tax reduction for American businesses of all sizes, and the incentive will be at their doorsteps to hire those workers to make those products. As President Ronald Reagan said in his 1983 State of the Union address: “No dramatic challenge is more crucial than providing stable, permanent jobs for all Americans who want to work.”
* * * * *
The zeal I will exert to better the lives of my countrymen at home will extend to protecting our interests abroad.
I will increase spending, and use that money wisely, to further our intelligence capabilities in order to thwart planned terrorist attacks against Americans or our allies, whether the targets are civilians, diplomats or military personnel.
I will lean on friends when necessary – without making them feel abandoned – if the chance for a durable peace in a world trouble spot is attainable.
And I will squeeze opponents of the fundamental American values of coexistence and tolerance, preferably through economic pressure but with force if necessary, until they change their reckless behavior.
In my determination to promote democracy worldwide, I will be as tough as realistically possible in my diplomatic dealings with murderous dictators.
But I will not accept the kind of statement recently bandied about by some in government, regarding Syrian President Assad’s brutal crackdown on his country’s pro-democracy forces, that Assad had lost his “legitimacy” to govern. That’s because I’ll never accept the notion that anyone ruling by force or as a result of family inheritance ever had “legitimacy” to govern in the first place.
And when winding down American military involvement I will not supply a departure date to our enemies, for that will only embolden them to strategize on how to harm our allies and interests once we leave.
No, I do not play poker with my cards face up.
If my vision of an America defined by uncompromising diligence at home and unrelenting defense of our nation’s interests overseas is too cumbersome for the majority of voters to endure, then maybe I’m not the right candidate to lead America at this time in history.
But at least I’ll remain true to my beliefs.
Eli Chomsky is an editorial staffer at The Jewish Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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