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Cheering on Politics Seeming Small



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In this new one-minute ad, set to run in nine swing states, Barack Obama faces the camera directly for much of the spot, talking about “the choice” Americans face in the upcoming election, about whether to return to what he characterizes as the “top down approach” that “caused the mess in the first place” or to his way, which involves “asking the wealthy to pay a little more so we can pay down our debt in a balanced way. So that we can afford to invest in education, manufacturing, and homegrown American energy for good middle class jobs.” Watch:

The ending line of the ad is, “Sometimes politics can seem very small. But the choice you face, it couldn’t be bigger,” which touches on a theme — the smallness of this election — that has gotten some political buzz, namely that this presidential election has been very centered on the trivial. Some of that is due to the Obama campaign’s eagerness to tear Romney down personally; some of that is due to Romney’s reluctance to detail too specifically his own positions on certain matters. 

But in some ways, it’s a relief to have an election where the politics seem smaller. In 2008, Obama supporters seemed to think that one president really could dramatically change the course of a nation — regardless of what Congress, the Supreme Court, state governments, and even the people themselves, did. Now, in 2012, both sides’ expectations seem (appropriately) far less grandiose. No president is immune from the polls, and I’d argue that it’s our culture and beliefs, not who we plopped in the Oval Office the latest election, that should be seen as the biggest driving factor in what kind of nation we are. (Although Obama’s ability to implement Obamacare of course illustrates that it’s hardly irrelevant who’s in the Oval Office.) Presidential elections matter. But pushing the theme that politics is large and life-changing and incredible, as Obama did in 2008, creates just two possible outcomes: disappointed voters or an expansion of presidential powers. And while it’s tempting to laugh off the disappointment of those who truly believed that Obama could change the world, that certainly contributed to the cynicism surrounding politics — which isn’t helpful. It’s one thing to be realistic about the limitations of change driven by politics. It’s another thing to be bitter. For the sake of overall civic culture, it would be helpful if politicians didn’t oversell what they can do in office. 



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