The 2012 Presidential election presents a simple choice. Your answer to a single question is enough to determine which candidate should receive your vote. When you understand this you can ignore all the commercials, turn off the news, not try to measure who has the better policy, or which candidate is more truthful, or which “fact checker” is twisting what facts in whatever direction. Answer the question and you can simply enjoy a beautiful, stress-free autumn.
Do you believe that America is a nation or that America is an idea?
Do you acknowledge that America is a country, like many other countries? You know America has shining moments in its past and has made some terrible mistakes. You can think America is a great country or a flawed country, that difference is not important here. You know that America is more-or-less like the other Western democracies, except it is bigger, stronger, and richer.
Because it is bigger, stronger, and richer, America needs to take care not to be clumsy in the world. Its sheer might can do great harm – even if unintentional. Also because America is so advantaged, you think America needs to do more, shoulder more of the burden, of pressuring global issues. You know that to be a good American you must be a good citizen of the world.
Just because America is bigger and richer it holds no monopoly on good ideas or institutions. If only America were a little less stubborn it could learn a lot from other nations. America is a country like all the others, and as soon as it realizes it, the world will be a better place. Because you believe all that, and because you know that boastful claims to Exceptionalism are somewhere between naïve and dangerous, you find the full-throated, flag-waving patriotism of some Americans to be a little embarrassing.
If that sounds like you, you should vote for Obama.
If, on the other hand the word “America” conjures in your mind something more, if you know that though it may be a country, America is something else, something intangible, Obama is not the best choice for you.
You believe – know down deep in your heart – that America is an idea. It may vary from imagination to imagination, but that changes nothing. America to you is a symbol, and the nation-state of America is merely our best effort to actualize that ideal.
When you see the flag, or an eagle, or the Statue of Liberty, tears well-up inside you. You feel pride in the past, and know that despite a few mistakes, the history of America is fundamentally good and always building to the better. Though America may be nothing more than an idea, it is an idea so powerful that it can beat within you with a religious fervor. Defense of the idea is worth the sacrifice of life, even your own.
If you think America is an idea, you should vote for Romney.
The choice is really that simple, and I offer no praise or recriminations for anyone based on your choice. You may agree or disagree with either candidate on any one, or any number of subjects. That is secondary.
An incumbent President need not offer effusive explanation of a platform. We have all seen him in action for four years. He may change his policies or advisers, but he will not change his heart. After four years of unrelenting examine, we know the philosophy of a President. Mr. Obama believes America is a good country, he may even think it a great country, but he does not view it as a special country. There is no magic.
There remains much about Mr. Romney that we do not know, in this way he has an advantage – as Mr. Obama did four years ago. We cannot yet know the choices he will make in application of policy. We cannot be fully sure of his heart. But, evidence from his life, the testimony of his friends, and his deliberate choice of words all tell us that he believes America is an idea, that the American dream is something available to each person, and something that binds our people together.
Leave everything aside. Ask yourself if America is an idea or a nation, for that is the fundamental choice between the candidates.