Presidential Elections Are A Choice, Not A Referendum

UJ’s post about what might have happened if John McCain were elected makes a good point.  Although I don’t agree with all of UJ’s conclusions, his comparison is the kind of analysis that voters engage in when they decide how to vote for President.  I think many voters decided McCain wasn’t up to the job when he was knocked off kilter by the economic shock during the 2008 campaign.  He seemed to panic, with his talk about suspending the campaign to go back to Washington, whereas Obama displayed the poise that Americans like to see in their leaders during times of crisis.

Presidential elections are a choice between competing human beings, not an abstract referendum on whether the existing President should be retained.  That is why, in my view, presidential approval polls really don’t mean much.  The fact that President Obama’s poll numbers are low is irrelevant if his 2012 opponent’s poll numbers are lower still, or if that opponent makes a significant misstep during the arduous months of campaigning.

We’re now at the point in our years-long campaign cycle where Republican candidates (and perhaps some fringe Democrats) will finally decide whether they are running for President and then begin raising huge sums of money, visiting Iowa kitchens and New Hampshire political luncheons, and so forth.  The potential Republican candidates — be they likely contestants such as Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin, or dark horses like Chris Christie — and their staffs should already have done the same kind of point-by-point analysis that UJ has undertaken.

In that regard, UJ’s list of President Obama’s “accomplishments” is a good place to start.  If you are going to be compared to the President you are trying to unseat, why not begin by distinguishing your position on specific issues that are viewed, by some at least, as that President’s most significant accomplishments?

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