And some tough comments on the vacuity of Romney’s campaign and the pandering of the president’s:

The nature of the 2012 campaign poses an additional difficulty. I cannot remember an election in which the gap was greater between the magnitude of our problems and the substance of our politics. With rare exceptions, Mitt Romney has alternated vacuity and self-contradiction, with interludes of fuzzy math.

Regrettably, Barack Obama has done little better. A president who entered office with transformational aspirations has chosen to run a tactical, transactional reelection campaign. After the debt ceiling fiasco in the summer of last year, Obama and his political team all but abandoned governing and subordinated everything to the imperatives of winning the 2012 election. The president systematically used the bully pulpit and his executive authority to reinvigorate the building blocks of his 2008 coalition. For young people, lower rates on student loans. For Latinos, announce a non-legislative version of the Dream Act. For gays and lesbians, endorse same-sex marriage. For single women, pick a fight over contraception with the Catholic Church and run a national convention in which the centrality of abortion rights startled even seasoned observers. Bill Clinton’s mantra—safe, legal, and rare—is a distant memory. In its place: “Julia.”

At the same time, Obama decided not to place a clear, ambitious agenda at the heart of his reelection campaign, focusing instead on a relentless effort to portray Mitt Romney as an unacceptable alternative. Even after the first debate, which blew up that effort beyond repair, the president continued to resist pressure from within his own party to put a more explicit second-term plan on the table. His interview with the Des Moines Register, which he tried to keep off the record, revealed more about his intentions that anything he had said on the stump. A fiscal “grand bargain” and comprehensive immigration reform—two key items in that interview—cannot succeed without public support. You can’t get public support for proposals you don’t push—hard—during the campaign, as George W. Bush found out in the spring and summer of 2005.

I have no doubt that Obama’s aspiration to do big things is as burning as ever. He believes that we need sustained public investments in areas such as education and training, basic and applied research, infrastructure and energy if we are to place the U.S. economy on a sound foundation in a globalized and increasingly competitive world. (For the record, I agree with him.) My point is rather than the way he has chosen to conduct his campaign will make it even harder than it had to be to get these things done during his second term.

Divide up into small groups and discuss.

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