April 7, 2011
The Choice In 2012: Emotion Versus IdeasBy Carl Paulus
On Monday we witnessed the beginning of two campaigns to shape the direction of the nation's future. President Obama declared that he would seek re-election in 2012, kicking off his pursuit of a second term with a web ad geared toward recruiting grassroots workers who would try to keep him in the White House.
In Congress, a much different campaign was launched by the Republicans, with Chairman of the Budget Committee Paul Ryan's release of the 2012 Republican budget. Comparing these two opening salvos for next year's election, America's choice can be boiled down to a simple choice between the emotional ploys of the left, and the comprehensive solutions of the right.
The difference between the two is best shown through the videos each side made when they initially launched their respective campaigns. Though each broadly discusses the future of the United States in a clip lasting just a few minutes, only one connects policy proposed today with America's future tomorrow by discussing actual plans that will affect the nation.
The president's video starts with a woman describing how nervous she is about the upcoming election.
She is then followed by a second woman who explains what the 2012 election means to her (and apparently for the Obama campaign). She says, "I think the election needs to reflect the change we've seen over the last two and a half years." What is the change she's talking about? Perhaps a successful stimulus and economic recovery? Health care reform? Or, maybe she is referencing the president's other policies that he's implemented over the past two years?
None of the above. In its opening video, the Obama campaign's definition of the successful change that occurred during his first term is that "an underdog senator became the president." This is immediately followed by a young man who supports the president because of his "energy and hope he had for this country." The reason for supporting the president is not because of what he's done; instead, it's because of who Obama intrinsically is.
The closest the president's video comes to discussing real issues is when they show a man who says, "I can't not be involved. There's too much that's fundamentally important right now" and a woman follows him who states, "we want people to have education, we want people to have homes, and we want people to have opportunity." This is immediately followed with a return to the man explaining that he "does not agree with Obama on everything, but he respects him and trusts him."
Obama's campaign thus appears to be based on making America feel good by telling nice stories and using emotional language. Even if you disagree with him, you should still trust him.
The president's video clearly made at least one intellectually honest liberal cringe. Jon Stewart, a staunch supporter of the president, mocked the video's lack of ideas. The comedian said he was thrilled that Obama did not want to break up with the voters despite "our poor record on post-recession job creation" or "our incessant demands to be talked to every time we go to war." After watching the video, Time Magazine's Swampland Blog could only point out the difficulty of rallying the liberal base without a clear enemy to attack as they did in 2008 with George W. Bush. Giving someone a reason to vote for you, it turns out, is far more difficult than giving them a reason to vote against someone else.
In complete contrast to the president, the House GOP introduced a plan on Monday to cut spending now and years to come. In their video introducing their budget proposal for next year, they showed the stark difference between conservatives and liberals.
While emotion served as the foundation for the Obama video, Paul Ryan's video emphasized the power of actual solutions built upon strong ideals to provide a better future for the country. The 2012 budget from the GOP cuts spending by $6.2 trillion over the next ten years in comparison to the president's budget.
Without resorting to emotional pleas, the congressman from Wisconsin starts by saying, "The facts are very clear. The United States is heading towards a debt crisis. The only solutions will be truly painful for us all, but that doesn't have to be our future." In ten seconds the Republican video already pinpointed the major issue of our generation and said more than the entire Obama ad. The next two minutes explain how the conservative plan works and why it saves the education, the homes, and the opportunity that the woman from Obama's video says she wants. The closest that Ryan gets to an emotional ploy is when he correctly states that not cutting spending will hurt our children's future, something that is fairly obvious.
The Republican budget elevates the national conversation above a futile debate over who can pull America's heartstrings the most. Ryan and the Republicans know, however, that Democrats will try to lower the conversation again. When asked on Sunday if the budget would give their opponents the ability to emotionally attack their plan, Ryan replied, "We are giving them a political weapon to go against us, but they will have to lie and demagogue to make that a political weapon."
Ryan's prediction will most likely prove prophetic if the battle over just a few cuts at the price of billions of dollars in the 2011 budget serves as any precursor to the debate that will occur in 2012 when we debate trillions of dollars. One Democratic congresswoman claimed that budget cuts would hurt people with HIV/AIDS. Another used the tsunami in Japan to attack the GOP. An administration official said that the Republicans wanted to kill thousands of children, and one famous liberal activist has gone on a hunger strike to protest the "cruel" cuts. The leader of the congressional Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, said that the elderly would starve if the GOP gets its way. This reaction comes from a cut of 66 billion dollars from a 3.83 trillion dollar budget that runs a 1.2 trillion dollar deficit. Most of the "cuts" the Democrats point to are not even cuts, but a continuation of last year's funding levels to government programs that would otherwise increase.
By raising the debate to revolve around facts instead of feelings, conservatives have seized the opportunity to create real and lasting solutions that Americans will listen to. Thoughtful and well-reasoned solutions will trump emotion-laced rhetoric and policies in the minds of the American public. Even the man who once said he thought Barack Obama would be a good president because of the crease in his pants is now worried about the Democrats demagoguing the Republican budget.
Using numbers and facts, Congressman Ryan's video ends with a choice "between two futures": the "path we're on right now" proposed by the president or "the other path" that shrinks the scope of government and fixes the nation's debt problem. In other words, the nation will be given two options in the upcoming election: the liberal one that offers stories about underdogs, hope, evil Republicans, using any emotional codeword to convince Americans to vote for Obama; and the conservative one that treats Americans like adults, explains the nation's problems, and offers solutions to fix them without revolving the discussion simply around how much to expand the government.
While the latter choice might be harder to make, it is up to conservatives to understand the problems the nation faces and the solutions we can realistically offer. We must teach and explain to our neighbors why it is so important to solve these problems while we still can, and at the same time show that the emotion-based public policy of liberalism is not the legacy we wish to leave behind. The president's campaign slogan is "It begins with us." He could not be more right.
Carl Paulus is a Ph.D. candidate in history at Rice University and studies racism and politics in the 19th-century U.S.