A Referendum Or A Choice?

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 16 2012 @ 1:01pm

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Bill Galston insists that the election will be about Obama's first term: 

A race for an open Oval Office is about promises and personalities; a campaign for reelection is about the record and performance of the person currently occupying the White House. To be sure, Obama can offer his vision for the future and new proposals to flesh it out. But if the people don’t approve of his record, that won’t matter much.

Joe Klein counters:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a presidential election that was a pure referendum, and every presidential election I’ve covered involved a choice. There are good reasons for this. The presidency is our most intimate office. The President lives in our homes for four years. The media spend considerable amounts of time, sometimes too much, telling us who these people are. And then in October we get to see two, occasionally three, men–only men, sadly, so far–on the stage and we decide which one we want to invite into our homes for the next four years.

Both are right, it seems to me. Obama's task is to remind people of what he inherited and how far we have climbed out of that hole, while portraying Romney as a return to the wreckage of 2008. He's also entitled to illustrate Romney's personal cocoon of massive wealth, off-key moments, abiding cynicism and endless gaffes.

But solely attacking Romney, the way Bush did Kerry in 2004, may not be sufficient. I remain strongly of the opinion that if the president offers nothing in the way of tax reform and insists entirely on tax fairness in his campaign message, he will not have a positive enough message to win. And Obama is much, much better at a positive message than a negative one. There has been a tone lately in Obama's remarks that approaches snark. It's unattractive. And it doesn't work.

(Chart via HuffPuff sans Rasmussen, as usual)