The pundits are, as usual, going overboard about the significance of this election. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne even concluded in recent days that that “the 2012 election will be a turning point involving one of the most momentous choices in American history." Dionne wrote: "For the first time since Barry Goldwater made the effort in 1964, the Republican Party is taking a run at overturning the consensus that has governed U.S. political life since the Progressive era." To wit: Republicans want to remove government from American life, and Obama wants to impose it.
The problem with this analysis is we've been hearing it since the Reagan era, and the reality is nothing like the rhetoric. Reagan launched a deregulatory era but did not cut the size of government; he increased it. So did the two Bushes. The tea party-driven GOP rhetoric we're hearing now is an angry reaction to that, but let's not overreact ourselves.
In truth, Obama and Romney are far closer in mindset and philosophy than anyone is willing to acknowledge just now. Obama, despite his image, has sought to placate business and left Wall Street largely intact, and he is taking a far tougher line on foreign policy--one that reflects a traditional GOP "realpolitik" view and a dramatic ratcheting up of covert war-- than is generally acknowledged, even when it comes to China.
Romney, increasingly desperate to win over his base against the onslaught of "Not-Romneys," has allowed his rhetoric to grow more inflamed on the trail, including commitments to a balanced-budget amendment and partially voucherizing Medicare as well as eliminating Obamacare. But based on his history, if he gets the nomination he is unlikely to follow through fully on these overheated pre-primary pledges and do many things dramatically differently, either on the economy or foreign policy. The problems of slow growth, chronic deficits and an overextended military will inevitably lend themselves to similar solutions from either an Obama or a Romney administration.
So let the general begin already. And let’s not deceive ourselves over what it’s about: power far more than principle.