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After All, a Real Campaign

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On with the campaign, then. And guess what. It's going to be a campaign after all, bearing no resemblance to the schizoid Republican effort of 2008, with John McCain (solid citizen, non-ripsnorter) selling good will and random platitudes, Sarah Palin selling mostly herself.


Ugh. The memory belongs in a dark closet, with door closed and locked.

A presidential campaign is not always a contest between ideas and philosophies. This one is. Just wait if you don't think so. Two different ideas about America are on display in speeches and ads: America as a land of freedom and opportunity vs. America as a placid sheepfold, run by the shepherds. The two notions have crossed paths before in campaigns but rarely so vividly, not to mention excitingly, as now. It's for two reasons.

We've never before had a president -- not even LBJ -- so committed as Barack Obama to direction of national affairs from Olympus. Obama has turned the Oval Office into his personal throne room -- the place from whence decrees and plans and programs issue (e.g., the Environmental Protection Agency's decree that Americans WILL, starting in 2025, purchase automobiles that achieve 54.5 miles per gallon. And what's more, THEY'LL LIKE IT!

Before tossing retributory apple cores at Obama, we ought to remember that we ourselves, the voters, commissioned the performance for which he now expects an Oscar. We bought a pig in a poke without stopping to examine the snout protruding from the sack. He told us as much as he thought we needed to know, and we said, in essence, fine, cool, get going.

That's one side of the 2012 choice. The other side exhibits commitment to an older, more generous -- when it comes to rights and liberties -- understanding of how government properly operates. In this understanding (leave aside rhetorical disputes about "big" and "small" government), the U.S. government performs certain functions with national scope, leaving other functions to the discretion of the people. The double-R Republican ticket -- Romney-Ryan -- represents this viewpoint.

So much we know. But here's the point likely to make this campaign -- what? Fun? More like "exhilarating," in consideration of the stakes.

The clash of visions on the campaign trail will be sharp, decisive, without accidental elements. More freedom or less? That is the issue. "Less" is the heart of the president's approach -- a point demonstrable nearly every time he talks. The Republican ticket, by contrast, wishes and hopes and plans for an increase in freedom. The matter is nearly that simple. Nearly, I said.

What distinguishes the present campaign from the last one is the current Republican ticket's capacity to articulate the case for freedom -- to advance arguments for it and repel arguments against it.

Each member of the ticket brings a special dimension of understanding and practice: Mitt Romney, the capitalist who knows from experience how to set and meet goals, how to innovate and motivate, and Paul Ryan, the practicing politician, with intimate knowledge of the missteps and misdeeds to which fellow politicians are given when they undertake to instruct a generally free people in "the way things ought to be." The two men complement each other -- in age, experience, education and judgment.

Romney-Ryan indeed may prove to be the best one-two punch ever aimed by an American political party -- Kennedy-Johnson and Reagan-Bush manifestly included.

The Obama campaign will -- already has begun to -- slam, wham and damn its newly anointed opponents. One might advise candidates who know as little about economics and political philosophy as our current president and vice president to be a little guarded in their employment of reckless accusations, lest they find themselves answered directly, distinctly and damagingly.

The GOP ticket is up to the mighty task set before it. That, I believe, would be the takeaway from the events of the past week, from Condi Rice to Clint Eastwood and beyond. Many, I think, did not anticipate this outcome. I say so inasmuch as I did not anticipate it myself. It may be safe to venture that another who did not expect such a thing is our incumbent president.

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