Editor's Weekly: No Etch A Sketch moments
Dear Beaconites -
With Missouri's primary behind us, we've reached what should be the Etch A Sketch phase of the campaign cycle. As you'll no doubt recall, an adviser to Mitt Romney chose that memorable metaphor to describe how the candidate might reset his image for voters between the primary and general election campaigns.
Conventional wisdom holds that candidates win primaries by tilting toward the most active wings of their parties; they win general elections by tilting toward the center and fuzzing ideological lines. Yet in Missouri and nationally this week, we've witnessed anything but an Etch A Sketch reset.
Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as his running mate was widely seen as a play to energize his conservative base. Then, as the Beacon's Jo Mannies reported, Missouri's slate of Republican statewide and congressional candidates traveled together to emphasize their philosophical differences with Democrats. Even in Illinois, where the political landscape looks different, candidates for the 12th congressional district drew a sharp contrast with each other in a debate, the Beacon's Jason Rosenbaum noted.
I've long believed that candidates owe voters clarity. By offering clear analyses of what went wrong, politicians help lay the groundwork for finding solutions. By offering clear visions of the future, candidates give voters a choice. And by making that choice, voters deliver a mandate that enables politicians to implement new policy.
Or so I thought. Now that ideological clarity has arrived, I'm beginning to wonder if it's enough. Take a closer look at this week's political developments, and you'll see that politicians sometimes stake out stark ideological contrasts yet still obfuscate the actual impact of the policies that might flow from them.
Consider Medicare, the part of Ryan's controversial budget proposal that Democrats love to hate. A budget would seem to be a concrete expression of priorities, an explicit guide to who might benefit and who might feel pain. Yet the counterpunching over the topic has obscured as much as it has revealed. Both Democrats and Republicans acknowledge that Medicare spending can't proceed unchecked, yet neither side will own up to the need to inflict any pain as costs get trimmed.
Beacon Washington correspondent Rob Koenig provided an enlightening analysis of the debate over Ryan's budget proposal. It's a good example of an important role journalists can play in the debate. More than just reporting what politicians say, we need to report how their statements square with reality. Just as fact checking helps voters sort out competing claims, reality checking helps voters understand the potential impact of various policy proposals in day to day life.
Of course, understanding the proposals is only one way voters determine who to support. Perhaps political tacticians understand more clearly than we do ourselves that voting behavior reflects the complicated and not necessarily consistent twists and turns of human nature. People can embrace the idea of individual responsibility yet welcome the security of Medicare. We can embrace the idea of collective responsibility yet balk at the tax load or red tape involved.
Sometime between now and November, somewhere between ideology and practicality, voters will sort their complicated and conflicting thoughts into decisions. The Beacon will do its part to inform and explain the process.