This year’s Republican presidential wannabes all have a past. They’ve all held responsible positions requiring hard decisions. Some decisions were controversial when made and remain so; others look more like mistakes now, with the advantage of hindsight.
In politics, opponents and critics try to hang every decision around the neck of the incumbent, and if possible, set fire to the tire. Every candidate with a record has to defend it, run from it or use it to his or her advantage.
Mitt Romney has RomneyCare; Tim Pawlenty supported cap-and-trade and agreed to some pretty silly renewable-energy mandates as governor of Minnesota; Mitch Daniels infuriated supporters of state right-to-work laws, backed a tax increase early in his first term and has suggested what he calls a “truce” on social issues. Mike Huckabee, as governor of Arkansas, pardoned a hardened criminal who went on to kill several law enforcement officers, and Haley Barbour worked for years as that most hated of all Washington professionals: a lobbyist.
President Obama faced none of these problems when he ran for president. He had never held a job that required him to make hard decisions, and did all he could to avoid tough votes as an Illinois state senator. Though a reliably liberal U.S. senator, he ran for president in a way that allowed voters to define him as they liked.
Indeed, as is often the case when running against an incumbent with a record, he promised “change,” but didn’t really define the sort of change his election might bring. Obama benefited greatly from the fact that his opponent in the Democratic primaries also had a record and had taken positions on controversial issues for years — positions that contributed to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) ultimate defeat.
Photo Credit: Donkey Hotey (Creative Commons)