Is Election 2012 an ‘Election of Ideas’?

It appeared to be a politically savvy choice for Mitt Romney to select Paul Ryan as his running mate. Ryan, a GOP rising star, seems to have injected an enthusiasm to the Romney campaign that it had formerly lacked. While it’s unclear that the addition of the Wisconsin representative to the ticket will turn the traditionally blue state red, it seems that the Ryan pick could change the tone of this election’s political discourse. Why is this the case? Two reasons: the guy’s filled with ideas, and he’s incredibly polarizing.

Before the ‘Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’ became actualized into law and legitimized by the Supreme Court, Republicans touted an alternative called the ‘Ryan Plan’, a health-care proposal which, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation, features “market-based reforms” and a “solid, growth-oriented tax plan”. Claiming his intellectual influences derive from both Thomas Aquinas and Ayn Rand, he appeals to Catholic social conservatives and libertarians alike, much flashier intellectual credentials than the ones offered by ‘etch-a-sketch’ candidate Mitt Romney.

But Romney is no moron either. The presidential hopeful successfully completed one of the most difficult academic programs offered at Harvard University, described in the following way by the New York Times: “[a] dual-degree program allowing graduate students to attend its law and business schools simultaneously, cramming five years of education into four. On average, about 12 people per year have completed the program — the overachievers of the overachievers — including a striking number of big names in finance, industry, law and government.”

And yet, the campaign has arguably not appeared to be filled with much serious debate. The ads have mainly been negative, the speeches oratorical. Romney’s main claim seems to be that he had some success running a corporation, and Ryan’s convention speech was filled with facts that turned out instead to be, well, “facts”. While this is quite possibly effective campaign strategy, the purpose of elections is not solely to win. If that were case, Ron Paul would not have stuck around as long as he did. An additional purpose of elections is to change the national discourse, to persuade. Republicans have agendas, and it would be naive to assume that Democrats do not.

So what is the Democrat agenda? What ideas are they pushing? It’s not completely clear to me that the Democrats are pushing systematic ideas in the same manner as many Republicans seem to be. While the Republican party has many groups under its big tent, each with their own theoretical frameworks (libertarians, neo-cons, theo-cons, paleo-conservatives, etc.), Democrats appear much more issue driven: environmental issues, LGBT issues, women’s issues, safety-nets for the poor, etc. The issues seem at times disconnected, but are perhaps tied together by values such as equality of opportunity, possibly a sort of value-free compassion, and almost certainly a distrust of market forces.

It will be exciting to see the ideas offered by the two parties compete as the election gets underway. Now that the two conventions have ended, and the vice presidential and presidential debates approach, I expect that we will have more opportunities to see where the stakes actually are in this election.

-Spark Jameson


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