Let me declare this up top, the presidential election is going to be close regardless.
On one hand there is President Barack Obama, a popular leader who rescued the U.S. economy from a free fall and passed the Affordable Care Act.
On the other hand we have a president who funded the largest bailout in U.S. history, ran up $5 trillion in deficit spending, and is receiving poll numbers showing two-thirds of the country think America is going in the wrong direction.
Likable or not, these numbers would usually get an incumbent beat, but these are extraordinary times.
This election will swing on which of these two distinctly different plot lines voters believe.
The day Obama took office he was handed a country that was devastated by the policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. It required allocating vast sums of money to save the U.S. economy from falling into the abyss.
It also became apparent that without health care reform more and more Americans were going to be excluded from the system and rising costs would bankrupt the government. The jury remains out on whether the Affordable Care Act will function as advertised, but it is worth finding out.
Add in the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the issue of immigration, and we have some of the largest issues in American history hanging in the balance.
This is a generational election to decide how America will proceed into the future. Many of the challenges we face today were considered hypothetical only a few years prior – they could be shunted to the side so more expedient issues could be addressed.
That is the case no longer. Medicare and Medicaid will run out of money, along with Social Security; how we engage immigrants in this country matters, as the Latino population steadily climbs; keeping our borders safe from terrorism is a way of life; maintaining affordable energy sources is a growing concern; and climate change has arrived.
The Democrats advocate that the ship has been righted, she just needs a bit more time to gather steam and the policies put in place will flourish, while investments into long-term solutions for alternative fuel sources and global warming will grow our economy for future generations.
The Republicans are largely grasping at the status quo. They want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, add some new cuts, reform the tax code, phase out entitlements, balance the budget, and pay down the debt. The idea being to focus on short-term improvements to make life better for American families right now.
This all sounds good, but the devil is in the details.
Many people need help, but Republicans have strategically chosen to provide few specifics for how they might do anything. In fact, there is considerable evidence that they would maximize profits for the wealthy, while balancing the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.
So we have an election that when simplified breaks down to this: Is the glass half full or half empty?
President Obama lifts his half-full glass and advocates we aren’t where we want to be yet but we are traveling a just course and will be better off from taking this harder road once we arrive.
Mitt Romney looks down upon an emptying glass and asserts America is heading in the wrong direction and advises we should look back upon our glory days for inspiration.
These two glasses represent over 80-percent of the electorate, split nearly evenly between the two parties, which means the election will sway on a handful of converts who believe one plot line or the other.
The ultimate deciding factor may be that the Republicans nominated a man in Mitt Romney, who is infinitely flawed as a presidential candidate, isn’t well liked nationally, nor particularly embraced within his own party.
You can’t blame Republicans, they nominated the best candidate available, but the pickings were slim.
Romney has not made any huge blunders. It’s more an aggregate of perceptions and faults exposed during this prolonged presidential race.
There remain persistent questions surrounding Romney’s work at Bain Capital, and whether his business practices adequately prepared him to handle the diverse tasks required of a president.
These doubts were crystallized after the GOP candidate unwisely decided to criticize the president about evolving political unrest Tuesday in Libya and Egypt. Romney hurriedly issued a statement condemning comments made by U.S. Embassy staff in Cairo who were trying to quell the violence triggered by an anti-Islam film perceived to be sanctioned by the American government.
Romney called on Obama to stop apologizing for American free speech. Unfortunately for Romney he shot his mouth off prior to four Americans being killed after the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi was overrun.
This made Romney look amateurish, and drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike. Romney worsened his situation by displaying a shocking insensitivity for the families of those Americans who died by further critiquing the president the following day.
Likely this was a desperate attempt by the Romney campaign to shake things up as polling from even Fox News is showing the president opening up leads outside the margin of error.
Even in the face of a grim monthly jobs report Romney lost ground.
That is of serious concern to the Boston crew, and a trend that will be hard to narrow with only 50 days remaining before the election.
There is a feeling that Obama has turned the corner, and a lot of that comes from the boost he received coming out of the Democratic National Convention.
“But know this America, our problems can be solved. Our challenges can be met. The path we offer may be harder, but it leads to a better place. And I’m asking you to choose that future,” said President Obama.
It wasn’t the best speech Obama has ever given, but it was inclusive, bipartisan and responsible. He reminded America what hope and change are, and rekindled the fire beneath both.
Vice President Joe Biden kept it simple, “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.”
There is a lot of truth in that statement. America has not seen another terrorist attack on its shores and the auto industry wasn’t allowed to fail thanks to President Obama’s leadership.
The top of the Democratic ticket delivered the goods, but it was Bill Clinton who threw the touchdown.
Clinton concisely explained why Obama deserves a second term: “He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy,” said Clinton. “Now are we where we want to be today? No. Is the president satisfied? Of course not. But are we better off than we were when he took office? Listen to this… When President Obama took office, the economy was in a free fall, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. Are we doing better than that today? The answer is — YES.”
It was a masterful performance. Clinton took some extremely complicated policy information and distilled it into a format that was appetizing, understandable and digestible.
“No president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage he found in just four years,” said Clinton.
The biggest thing I took away from the two conventions was that in Tampa there was no passion for Mitt Romney, only enthusiasm for beating the president. Whereas in Charlotte the passion flowed inside the arena and beyond for Barack Obama.
It’s hard to win a national election when you don’t believe in your candidate.
Obama still faces the same core issues as before; he spent a ton of money, the recovery remains painfully slow and two-thirds of the country question whether America is heading in the right direction…
But when Republicans preach about balancing the budget by first giving the wealthy another round of tax breaks it’s hard to take them seriously.
True leadership comes not from hiding behind a flag of nostalgia, but instead finding long-term solutions to the tough problems we face.
Obama restored our dignity, and there is no price tag for that.
As current Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick pointed out, Romney is a fine fellow and an excellent salesman, but in the end Romney was more interested in getting the job as governor of Massachusetts than “doing” the job.