A few weeks ago, Peggy Noonan wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal that perfectly captures my attitude toward this presidential campaign: It’s incredibly consequential and incredibly boring all at the same time.
Since then, I’ve come up with a number of reasons for why it is so dull. First, intellectual stagnation. This race is the latest iteration of the same debate we’ve been having since 1964. Mitt Romney is calling President Obama a big-government liberal who wants to crush business. Obama is calling Romney a corporate tool who wants to take away grandma’s health care.
American politics went through tremendous changes between 1900 and 1936, and then again between 1940 and 1976. But our big government/small government debate is back where it was a generation ago. Candidates don’t even have to rehearse the arguments anymore; they just find the gaffes that will help them pin their opponent to the standard bogyman clichés.
Second, lack of any hint of intellectual innovation. Candidates used to start their campaigns by giving serious policy addresses at universities and think tanks to lay out their distinct philosophies. Bill Clinton was a New Democrat. George W. Bush was a Compassionate Conservative.
But the ideological climate has ossified. Candidates know that they’d be punished for saying something unexpected — by the rich, elderly donors and by the hyperorthodox talk-show hosts. Instead of saying something new, now they just try to boost turnout within their own demographic niches and suppress turnout in the other guy’s niches.
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