The presidential election is 16 months away, but already we’re smack in the middle of the usual media scrum of campaign coverage, prognostication, and strategizing by many of us who have nothing much to do with the real campaigns. I’ve been following the rhetoric of both parties, and there are a few points that stand out enough to tell us something about what we have to look forward to.
To begin, the country is not in a sunny mood. There is a sense that America is adrift, that we don’t quite know how to deal with the forces of globalization, technological change, economic uncertainty, or terrorism. Americans are looking for a leader who can restore confidence.
The economy in particular weighs on ordinary Americans’ minds. There’s widespread agreement that the growing economy has done very little to help people of ordinary income — not just in recent years, but really for the past generation.
Still, the improving economy may be responsible for one interesting aspect of the campaign: Republicans thus far have made national security a centerpiece issue, though this could change with world events. They are also focusing on the budget deficit, cutting taxes, and, as always, pulling back on the reach of government. They want to eliminate Obamacare as well as cut Medicaid, move Medicare to a voucher system, repeal the estate tax, cut domestic programs, roll back financial reform and efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and eliminate further consumer protections.
For the Democrats, meanwhile, addressing income inequality, maintaining social security and other entitlements, improving the country’s decaying infrastructure, job creation, college costs, immigration and energy reform, and climate change all loom large. They want to preserve Obamacare, move forward on climate change, retain taxes on high-income earners, and preserve the financial reforms of the last decade.
With no incumbent president, many candidates, no clear favorite, and major differences in outlook on which issues to address and how to address them, this will be in the grand American political tradition a lively, contentious, long, expensive, maybe even pivotal election. Who gets to answer the biggest questions we face — the appropriate U.S. role in the world, what the reach and purpose of government should be, which path will best secure Americans’ prosperity and world peace — is up for grabs. We’ve got an interesting election ahead as a nation. I’m looking forward to it. I hope you are, too.
Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University; Distinguished Scholar, IU School of Global and International Studies; and Professor of Practice, IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.