The Choices in this Election: Personalities v. Policies

As I watched the GOP convention talk about personalities rather than policies – and of course there was their air that McCain is someone morally superior to Obama for some odd reason – a set of thoughts kept filtering up but the words failed me – until I read what Greg Sargent said so well:

But why do we have to accept the idea that he’s also modest and reticent to discuss his own suffering? Why do we have to grant both his heroism and the superior character underlying his supposed reluctance to discuss the experiences that he just talked about in front of a TV audience of millions?

The McCain campaign and the GOP want this campaign to be about one thing: The compared character and experience of the two men running. But elections are also about another niggling detail: What each one is promising to do as president — that is, their promised agenda and proposed policies.

McCain says he’ll do some stuff. Obama says he’ll do other stuff. Polls show overwhelmingly that the American people back the program that Obama is promising. Shows like the one you watched tonight are designed to make you forget this.
McCain is offering his character — hardened by extraordinary suffering — but is also promising to put that character in service of accomplishing…very little different than what we’ve had at the hands of his predecessor.

Obama, too, is offering his biography. And his experiences, while not as overtly dramatic, nonetheless do have resonance for millions and millions of Americans. We’re supposed to see his experiences as less heroic than his opponent’s, and that’s fine — Obama hasn’t passed through the same fires McCain has — but Obama’s experiences carry weight and resonance for huge chunks of the population.

Ultimately, though, the choice isn’t only between two biographies. It’s also between a set of promises and aspirations. Obama is offering a series of policy changes — pulling out of Iraq; changing America’s posture towards the rest of the world; changing the way foreign policy is discussed in this country; overhauling the tax code; engaging in genuine energy reform — that McCain isn’t offering. Obama may or may not be able to deliver on these promises. But at least he’s promising to attempt them.

Shows like tonight’s are meant to persuade you that the election isn’t about such choices. Instead, you’re supposed to imagine that the election is a choice between two stories. Between two protagonists. That’s not what it’s about at all.

We got more really bad news from the labor front. So how would each candidate address this macroeconomic issue? Oh yea – McCain sees it as an excuse for more and permanent tax cuts for the rich. The one he had the good sense to vote against in 2001 did not do so well but now he wants more of the same.