Sunday, November 2, 2008

Is the presidential job interview flawed?

I recently read the endorsement of Barack Obama by The Economist, and I was struck by the case they made for him. What struck me specifically was the difference between how they described their rationale for the endorsement with what I hear on the stump from both candidates.

Maybe it's because The Economist is a global publication, but their endorsement seemed refreshingly multi-faceted, ranging from the economy, health care reform, domestic race relations, to how Obama would approach foreign policy. But most of all, they seemed the most focused on Obama injecting America with a new sense of self-confidence that it will need to overcome the foreign and domestic challenges ahead.

Compare this to the campaign messages and the media coverage of the race. Do you think we're hearing about these multiple factors in our media reports? Do you think most Americans know where each candidate stands on all of the critical issues facing America? Or, do most of us now simply "know" that Obama will raise taxes to redistribute wealth, and McCain will reduce both taxes and government spending. Ever since the economic crisis emerged, it feels to me that our presidential race has been reduced to a debate about taxes.

If this is the case, then is it the media's responsibility to ensure that voters know the various positions of each candidate? Or is the media only obliged to report what the campaigns are, well, campaigning on?

In our poll-driven politics, each candidate knows that they can do best in elections with clarity and simplicity in stump speeches. Multi-faceted messages fall flat -- at least in polls. Neither candidate is immune to the polling effect. And I fear that our democracy's ability to efficiently elect the right candidate is limited by our own inability to sort out multiple policies, and how they may interweave. Worse, it appears that our unhealthy fixation on taxation overwhelms most other factors that a President has to cope with.

Sure, taxes are important, but they are not the driving force of our economy, foreign policy, or moral framework. Yet our candidates are campaigning as if taxation is the transcendent issue facing our nation. What an odd situation.