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Senior Correspondent

Notes From a Friend …

A friend offered the most disarmingly elegant overview of the campaign I have heard thus far. He is an ardent W.B.A. (World Boxing Association) fan and a little of the language of the sport infused his comments. Let’s call him Simon.

Simon was relieved that the Republican primaries are essentially settled and the 2012 general campaign is on. Romney, he said, is a deeply flawed candidate but he just wanted the nomination more than the rest of the field.

In the blue corner, we have a seasoned incumbent, President Obama, slightly grayer, bruised but not battered, and on his game. The President is ready for this fight! In the red corner, we have Mitt Romney, the supremely confident, wealthy ex-governor/businessman determined to complete the quest begun by his famous father in the 1960s. Romney’s mantra is “The President has failed … elect me and I will get it right.” Simon seemed to be amused by the boldness of that assertion.

This will be a 15-round match with no holds barred; hundreds of millions sloshing through the hands of highly paid consultants and the coffers of media organizations. Also, there will be more distortions of fact and history than can be chronicled by a small platoon of historians. Every tool in each candidate’s war chest will be utilized including photogenic spouses and offspring. All’s fair in war and presidential politics.

On full display in each round will be the contrast in each candidate’s vision and interpretation of the other’s actual record and position on issues. To aid the rest of us in separating fact from fiction will be the ubiquitous video clips, transcripts, and audio sound bites. Simon said the scales may tip in favor of the blue candidate over the red candidate who has taken more sides on an issue than is generally permitted in political debate when the presidency is at stake.

Building credibility could be problematic for the former Massachusetts governor. We will have to judge each candidate on the basis of what was said (fact), not what we choose to believe (fiction). Conservatives most likely will trend toward what they prefer to believe if it means they might make Obama a one-term president.

Simon then spoke of a quality he looks for in any serious presidential candidate: consistency. To my surprise, he mentioned foreign policy. In foreign policy, he went on to say, consistency builds loyalty, respect and support. Unilateralism as a consistent approach to international relations proved disastrous during the past decade and we can no longer afford to go it alone. The economies of our traditional allies are too fragile and their publics are less likely to support America’s taste for permanent war.

Therefore, if consistency is a quality we require in those we elect to represent us, the red candidate should be required to acquit himself under the glare of public scrutiny. The question on the minds of many, Simon notes, is which Romney do we believe?

The tenor of the general campaign, although in its infancy, suggests the red candidate will be unable to escape previous actions and statements that assert or prove he is “severely conservative.” The governor will be reminded of his infamous assertion that “corporations are people …” Also, that he “is not concerned about the poor …” And then, in response to a question about the housing crisis, he offered that the foreclosure process should not be halted. His prescription was to let it run its course, hit bottom. Investors should be allowed to purchase the properties, put renters in them, fix them up and let market forces prevail. That was a judgment on which the voters have yet to render a final verdict.

The President as the blue candidate also will have to defend his record: accomplishments, missteps and failures. His is the more difficult task because much of the electorate already knows what it thinks of his presidency and him personally. He, too, will be under pressure to address why and how his campaign promises fell short. While the Republican opposition was obstructionist from the outset, he, too, bears some of the responsibility. Is he confident enough at this point in his presidency to admit his own missteps?

Yes, there are voters unenthusiastic about the President’s performance the last three years but it is only fair that he be judged on that record and our confidence in his ability to serve another term. But, will his remarkable record of accomplishments suffice despite the forces arrayed against him since the night of his inauguration?

Simon felt that a plausible, but compassionate, argument can be made that Obama’s successes under historically difficult circumstances exceed the norm for a politician of greater experience; that a talent of such dimension has earned the right to succeed himself. As a counterpoint, this writer consistently faulted the President for failing to respond to the negative forces that conspired at the outset to cripple his presidency. It was only when Elizabeth Warren launched her senatorial campaign to succeed Scott Brown of Massachusetts that the President’s tone changed. Suddenly, his spine stiffened; he began to push back — much to the delight of his frustrated and disappointed supporters.

By then, unfortunately, the Republican and conservative opposition had framed the narrative for his presidency as the “change that disappointed.”

Simon went on to reiterate the blue candidate is a known quantity but, in contrast, the red candidate is still a mystery to many. He could be the candidate with a storied past but thus far seems to lack core convictions except to win the presidency at all costs. That singular ambition does not make him more dangerous, but we should demand to know more about his ideas.

Romney has to convince us that he can get it right beyond campaign rhetoric that has already raised eyebrows among his GOP supporters on Capital Hill. Also, it is obvious that people outside his social class apparently mystify him. Somewhat amused, Simon observed, “There is nothing subtle about a candidate whose attempts at humor or candor amount to the two-by-four between the eyes.”

If the outcome of the contest was to be a function largely of the contestants’ activities in the ring (the campaign trail), the electorate could live with that. The real action, however, will be centered on the impact of the super PACs and the unlimited dollars they will pour into the campaign to move public opinion in a specific direction: Pro-Romney Restore Our Future and pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads.

What each of us should fear in this election is that the highest bidders — the private, political and corporate entities — will determine the outcome. They are prepared to purchase the leadership most clearly aligned with their issues’ agenda. Simon asked rhetorically, “Are we ready for this probable outcome?” “Will we consign ourselves to the role of spectator in the cheap seats and dutifully pull the lever on November 6 for the candidate of their choice? Or, will we hold each candidate accountable for explaining in detail what distinguishes him from the other guy? What he will do differently. More importantly, tell us how. Outline for us how his vision is consistent with ours, not the America that speaks to his experience and lifestyle. If “trickle down” economics is his preferred economic model, explain to us why it will work this time when it has not in the past.”

The super PACs will spin a narrative for our consumption; we expect that. The corporate-controlled major media will not represent a neutral conduit for news because they will be influenced by the super PACs funds dispensed by the campaigns for advertising. Unless we become more discerning in our taste for news by confronting the candidates, we just may elect the candidate most qualified to lead us into the past.

As we were about to leave the restaurant, Simon touched my arm while catching my eye and shared with me his real fear in November. “Imagine, he said, we re-elect the President and the Republicans either control the Congress or increase their numbers in Senate. We could have four more years of gridlock while the Republicans bring the country to ruin. Where will we be then?”

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